Gym using boxing to keep kids out of gangsby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
Rochester, Minn. — While officials in Rochester tackle an increase in violent crimes in the last year on the streets, one man is using the boxing ring to help at-risk kids.
Cities around the state are fighting gang problems, much like the Twin Cities have for years. In Rochester, there's been a double-digit increase in violent crimes in the last year, including drive-by shootings and stabbings.
On a recent weeknight in downtown Rochester, about a dozen young men exercise inside the Fourth Street Youth Boxing Gym. Some punch speed bags, others twist and turn to work out their abs. It's musty in the converted warehouse and most of the men are drenched in sweat.
Amateur boxers and young adults from all over Olmstead County come here to workout. All of the trainers are volunteers, including 52-year-old Horace Bryant.
"When they come through that door, attitude, ego, disrespect, all those things stay on that side," Bryant said.
His words are telling of the gym's rules: no smoking, no gang colors, no swearing, no drinking, and no drugs.
Bryant doesn't own the gym, but since this spring, he's coordinated with the owners to bring his youth mentoring program into the boxing ring.
Many of these boys have had run-ins with the law and Bryant believes the discipline that's needed to be a boxer is just what some of them need.
"Before you know it, for kids that may have not listened to anyone, now they're paying attention and they're listening and they're respecting the word of someone else," he said. "It's really amazing that a sport that can be deemed in a sense violent, is changing the lives of kids who are violent."
Chris Watson, 21, is one of Bryant's students.
Bryant has become Watson's coach, mentor and friend, and that's just what Watson needed, considering his lengthy rap sheet. He said he was never in of a gang but at 14, he was arrested and charged with a felony for being in a group fight that left a boy into a coma.
He's also been arrested about half a dozen times for underage drinking and smoking marijuana. He also dropped out of school during his senior year in 2007.
Watson said he probably would have continued on that downward spiral if it hadn't been for Bryant -- or boxing.
"I just had nothing to do back in the day; I wasn't working," Watson said. "I had so many friends I didn't know what to do with and they were always doing something illegal or something fun. Ever since I met Horace, going to the gym is what I look forward to everyday. I can't wait to get off work and go boxing."
In Rochester, violent crimes like drive-by shootings and stabbings were up 14 percent last year. The gang trouble doesn't compare to the shootings and drug dealings in the Twin Cities, but Rochester police say they don't want to wait for it to get that bad.
Rochester Police Captain Brian Winters said any help to get at-risk kids OFF the streets is a step in the right direction.
"If we can divert one individual from gang involvement, if we can divert one individual, provide them resources to put them on a track that helps them avoid criminal behavior, it's certainly an effort that's worthwhile and certainly an effort that the community would endorse," Winters said.
For Watson, boxing became the catalyst for getting his life back on track.
Bryant helped him find a job as a cashier at Kohl's just about a month ago, and now, Watson jokes that his biggest trouble is getting customers to sign up for the department store's credit card.
"I feel like I was on the edge, and I just turned around and walked away from the edge," he said. "Now, I'm just moving forward. I'm going to put the past behind me and all that. There's a lot of people who know me because of the things I did, but I'll shake that image one day."
Watson said he'll continue to box, work and prepare for his GED, so he can start college in the spring. He's not sure what he'll study, but he says he wants to help kids, the way Horace Bryant helped him.
- All Things Considered, 09/24/2009, 5:24 p.m.