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Boxing Champ Gets Washington Youth Off the Streets

  • Brad Zerivitz

A former world boxing champion is luring young people off the streets of Washington and into the boxing ring. The program is in a center city neighborhood and provides at-risk youth with a rigorous boxing regimen. It also gives them help with their school work, as we learn in today's Searching for Solutions report. Brad Zerivitz has the story.

Boxer Keely Thompson says he grew tired of watching young people fall into a life of gangs and violence in Washington. With the help of a local city council member, the former lightweight world boxing champion vowed to do something about it. So he founded Keely's District Boxing and Youth Center.

Thompson serves as executive director and head trainer. He describes the mission of the center. "We deal with a lot of kids who come from broken homes -- no mother, no father. Some of them are not educated. That's what we do. We educate them. We instruct them. We use the boxing for the discipline part of it."

The students come here to learn boxing, but they are not allowed to enter the ring before finishing their daily school work. The Keely Center's program stresses reading comprehension and verbal skills.

Thompson and the other staff members say they try to be more than just teachers and give students the support and encouragement that some may not get at home. "Some of them don't have that mother and father to reach out to them," he explains. "Their mother and father have two or three jobs. Some don't have neither one of them. The staff here, we reach out to a kid. We tell them we love them. This is the way out. This is the way you should do it," he said.

Like many of the people who are involved with the program, Kenneth Brown says he had a tough life before meeting Thompson. "I was affiliated with a gang. It was a bunch of us, we pretty much went around, did nothing, beat up people, got into a lot of fights. There was drugs involved. Before it became too late, I'm glad that I came here."

Brown, now a mentor in Keely's program, says he turned his life around and gave up drinking, drugs and tobacco to improve his performance in the ring. He is already an experienced amateur boxer with a 19 and 4 record. He hopes to box professionally next year. He says, "I know that boxing teaches you more things than just how to fight. Patience. It teaches you discipline. As a boxer, you learn to be humble. Even though you know how to fight, you don't go around fighting.

Many of the program's graduates have gone on to college, and six have won the Golden Gloves amateur boxing tournament. Keely's lists more than 1,700 alumni already.

Thompson says young people arrive here every day and after working hard in and out of the ring, they are too tired to return to a life on the streets.

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