Crime Series: Boxing Program Fights To Prevent Youth Violence
Schools do many things to help stop youth violence, but administrations say they can't do it alone. In the fourth part of our series 'Crime in our Communities,' we visit a youth boxing club in Schenectady that is working with the city school district to keep kids in the ring and off the streets.
It's a sunny July afternoon but inside the Schenectady Ring of Hope Boxing Club there are a handful of teens training.
One of those is Sean Burke. He'll be a junior at Schenectady High School this fall. Burke began training last fall as a part of Ring of Hope's Peaceful Warriors program, which aims to keep kids in the ring and away from gangs and violence.
"I thought it would be a good workout to get, and my friends were doing it, and he decided "You know, It's a good program, it's fun, why don't you try it?". So I was like "Alright, I'll go to a couple tryouts, workout sessions." It was pretty hard but I like hard things so I stuck with it."
He enjoyed the after-school program so much, he's still here in the summer. Burke said he's learned a lot by training with others at the gym, and not just technique.
"It's helped focus me, and it's helped focus a lot of other kids I've seen, too."
Another young man training at the gym is Jahyae Brown, also a junior. Brown first came to Ring of Hope three years ago.
"I'll be in the gym 24/7, every single day. Just working hard trying to become, like, better than Floyd. That's my goal, trying to become better than Floyd Mayweather. That's it. And it's like...if I get bad grades I can't do boxing no more. So I have to work hard in school too."
Ring of Hope founder, Coach Vince Kittle, says his gym has been working with Schenectady High School for the last 8 years. He says the Peaceful Warriors program began when some school staff members who had trained at the gym suggested the discipline of boxing would benefit at-risk kids.
"So what they did is they went out to the teachers and the principal and staff at the school and literally asked for their baddest children. 'Give us your hardcore problem child.'"
Kittle said when new students arrive, they often think they can take on anyone. So the coach sets them up against a gym member he says may appear to be "professor-looking."
"Have them come in and just look at somebody's physical...and make a judgment. And assume that this gonna go be easy and they're gonna really kick the crap out of this guy."
But, that's not the case. And new students learn quickly.
"For the most part, these guys, it's a wake up kind of thing. It's like, 'wow, I thought I was really tough, I thought I was the baddest guy out here. I just got taught a lesson in front of my peers by someone I assumed that I would be better than at this particular sport," said Kittle.
For the Schenectady School District, Ring of Hope is one of the several community organizations that are a valuable asset.
Superintendent Larry Spring said the school cannot simply discipline their way out of youth violence in the community.
"And so it requires us to have partnership and coordination with lots of different agencies so that when a student pops up on our radar screen either because they've committed an act of violence, or if they've been a victim of an act of violence, because that makes them a high risk for being a perpetrator later, we want to make sure that these kids are on somebody's radar screen. That somebody is working with them and providing them service."
Spring said the school cannot mandate a student to receive counseling, but there are ways to work with the student, like shortening the length of an out-of-school suspension if a student becomes involved with what he refers to as a "restorative practice."
The students say boxing has given them the confidence to walk away from a fight.
Brown said he brings what he's learned through training from the ring to his friends and family.
"And I just show my brothers and my sisters and my friends who like...I show my friends who are in the streets that it's not about like...the streets don't love you. Your mom do, your parents do. And if you keep being in the streets you're going to end up dead or in jail or you're going to be like 40 years old and looking back on your life and be like "dang, I should have listened to Jahyae. I should have just stayed in the gym. I would've became something. So hey..."