Boxing is a great emotional release, writes the author, and kids who have the odds against them need that release more than anyone else.
“When are we gonna do kickboxing?” Ayana asked me.
She is one of my mentees at the Polo Grounds Community Center, where I volunteer as part of my coursework at Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts. Once the kids there found out that I teach boxing and kickboxing, they were eager to learn.
I can understand why.
When I was a little older than Ayana (who is 11), I was introduced to boxing. From age 15, boxing has been a staple in my life. It took me from a teenager with an anger problem to a confident young woman.
I know the power of boxing — it has the power to transform. Ever since I begin to see the positive changes boxing helped me make in myself, I wanted to create a program for kids throughout the city who had the same anger I once had.
I could already see it in my mind: the kids learning discipline and control while having fun hitting things. Everybody loves to hit things. Boxing is a great emotional release and kids who have the odds against them need that release more than anyone else.
When I first enrolled in a course called “Youth Mentoring in the City” at the New School, I had no idea what was in store. All I knew was the class had two things I was passionate about in the title: youth and the city.
I still remember my first class like it was yesterday. As soon as the two professors — Judy Mejia and Tracy Garcia-Mitchell — walked in, I instantly knew I was taking a class that would change my life. They have a warm and nurturing energy that is passed onto their students.
When I found out I was going to actually get an opportunity to work with kids, I was so excited. I felt like my dreams were unfolding in front of me. As the course went on, I learned about the psychological, political and socioeconomic factors affecting the kids I was going to be mentoring.
During each class, in the back of my mind, I was thinking about boxing.
How can I bring my love of boxing into this class? How does boxing connect to these factors affecting these kids? With each week, I felt like I was getting one more piece to the puzzle.
I kept bringing it up in class and asking for help — two things I have never been known for in school before — but I finally had a space where I felt safe enough to share my thoughts.
Both professors, along with my classmates, helped me to develop lesson plans integrating boxing with life skills that I can introduce to my mentees. Professor Mejia was very helpful in sending me studies and articles about successful youth programs from around the country.
When I finally got to teach a few of the mentees boxing their faces lit up. They were having so much fun and I could see any anxiety they had melting away. Afterwords we sat down and they really started opening up to me. They told me about fights they’d been in and showed me some wrestling moves they learned from TV.
These kids are strong, powerful and brave. Boxing is a way for them to harness that strong energy — and with some guidance — use it to help instead of hurt.
A few years ago I had given up on my education. With the encouragement of the faculty and students at the New School, I went from academic probation at Baruch College to a fully involved member of a college community.
I never thought I would be so excited to go to a class until I took Youth Mentoring in the City. This class, along with countless other experiences at The New School, have taught me that I have complete control over my education and that education is powerful once you do take that step to make it your own.
I’m learning how to do exactly what I want to do in my life while earning a degree.
The connection is clear between the work being put into my education and the results. The New School is giving me the knowledge I need to inspire others and truly embody the changes I want to see in my community and I am endlessly grateful for the experiences it has allowed me to gain both in and out of the classroom.
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