A teammate once told me “everyone who boxes is really messed up in a special way.” Everyone has their own personal issues and troubles, and boxing is a way to work through them in an effective, though somewhat warped way.
The same is true for many people in the city of Baltimore. Upton Boxing Center, which is funded by the local government and costs members only $65 a year, provides a haven for children who already face “adult problems” at the ages of seven, eight and nine years old. Such issues range from parents who are in prison or addicted to drugs to witnessing friends getting shot in the street. They are forced to take care of themselves, and the gym is a place where they can work out and stay safe.
Baltimore is a tough city. According to Finn Cohen of the New York Times, it currently averages nearly a murder a day. When children lose parents to shootouts or prison, it’s difficult to stay on track. Many drop out of school, get involved in drugs or do time in prison. When people at the gym hear gunshots, Kenny Ellis, one of the coaches, told the New York Times, “You look around the gym, like, ‘We got some in here that ain’t getting shot.’”
Others aren’t so lucky. A 17-year-old amateur was stabbed in the heart in 2012 while defending his sister in a fight, and another boxer only two fights into his professional career was shot nine times. Yet another fighter, orphaned after his father was gunned down at a corner store, is now in jail. As Ellis said, “You can’t have one foot in the streets and one foot in the gym, It’s not gonna work.”
Those who devote their full attention to the gym have the opportunity to find real success. Gervonta Davis — the current junior lightweight champion — came out of Upton Boxing Center after growing up with a mother who struggled with drug abuse and a father who did time for selling drugs.
The 22-year-old moved to West Baltimore at the age of seven and quickly learned to fend for himself. His uncle took him to Upton as a child after his mother received reports of his frequent fighting at school, and he loved it. There were of course temptations to take to the streets, especially with friends out there every day, but Davis stayed focused and now is the youngest world champion in boxing.
Despite his success, he refuses to forget his roots. A mentee of Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Davis had the opportunity to move to Las Vegas and train with the living legend, but he chose to remain in Baltimore to honor those who trained him.
For Davis championship fight in Brooklyn on January 14th, one would have thought they were in his home city due to the number of people who came out to support him. His success inspires others and gives them hope for a brighter future. The tough community he comes from undoubtedly contributes to his success in the ring as well: after all he has faced outside the ring, not much can stop him.
By offering safe spaces like this to troubled youths, cities have the opportunity to keep them from a lifetime of drug abuse and prison, or even death.
Although it is the choice of the children to join such gyms, price and availability are important factors. If local governments join forces with boxing gyms and other sport centers to create increasingly accessible and affordable programs, they can make a monumental difference in the lives of young people and hopefully create even more boxing champions along the way.
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