An after-school program for at-risk youth is trying to decrease violence on the streets of Brooklyn by banking on the fact that boxing gloves are better than bullets.
The “Put Down the Guns and Pick up the Gloves,” event featured more than 100 kids who take part in the after-school boxing classes sponsored by the Theodore A. Atlas Foundation and the NYPD boxing program duking it out in Flatbush — a bit of macho recreation that the program’s director says is necessary to entice kids who otherwise might choose more criminal paths.
“These kids aren’t going to come out to play volleyball,” said Patrick Russo, the director of the Cops and Kids boxing program and a former NYPD sergeant. “Boxing attracts these macho kids that could maybe end up a Blood or a Crip, but want walk around with the pride that they’re part of something.”
The free program, which trains around 250 kids aged 13 to 21 regularly at its gym and training center on E. 34th Street in Flatbush, recently sent a boxer from its Staten Island facility to the London Olympics.
And Russo disputes the notion that boxing is inherently dangerous or anymore dangerous than other popular American sports.
“It’s perceived as a violent sport, but it’s a safer sport than football if it’s supervised properly,” he said. “We’ve never really had anybody injured.”
The event strove to attract kids to the program, and to commemorate a fallen fighter, Tray Franklin, a 20-year-old boxer at the gym who was gunned down during a dice game in late June.
“We are trying to highlight the program to our kids in the community, to come out and get off the street, we’re helping the kids to make the right choice.” said Russo.
Even local politicians were on board with the program.
“The most important thing to grasp is that no one program holds the entire solution to gun violence; it takes a multifaceted approach that involves programs like these to affect behaviors and change the culture,” said Councilman Jumaane Williams (D – Flatbush), who at the weekend event. “Boxing teaches discipline, determination and focus, while channeling frustration in a more constructive manner. I would rather hear a bell signal the end of a fight than a gun.”