Chicago Youth Boxing Club: Building Community, Character, and Togetherness
By: Sylvia Del Raso, 2022 Chicago Peace Fellow and Board Treasurer, Chicago Youth Boxing Club Inc
Almost 15 years ago, I was asked to join the Chicago Youth Boxing Club (CYBC) board, a nonprofit sports-based youth development program serving the North Lawndale and Little Village communities on the southwest side of Chicago. What I started as a six-month commitment, I am continuing to this day as a rewarding initiative where young people can resolve their difficulties, find community, and prosper in the sport and beyond.
I remain, to this day, a volunteer and an avid supporter of the mission of this boxing club, which provides an outlet and safe space for youth and acts as a preventive measure to avert young people away from potential gang activities. I have experienced many fulfilling moments during this work.
One of the best and earliest moments was around 12 years ago when one of our young people, then nine-year-old Felix Gonzalez, was apprehensive about getting up in the ring; then he won. His happy glow still stays with me.
I remember thinking: I am in it. It is helping them [young people], and I am helping the community. Felix grew up and recently came to thank us, this time under the uniform of a Chicago Paramedic. Seeing how he came back as a 22-year-old made me, once again, understand how crucial it is for the community to maintain our service to them, and how long-lasting our positive impact is.
Now, we are serving approximately 140 young people. We offer them a boxing club and a place that listens to them. This platform helps them build discipline, character, and self-confidence and allows them to add value to their future. We talk to them about going to school, about possibilities to graduate and, to go to college. We offer scholarships and guide them. It is more than just a boxing club.
A Place of Many Benefits
Regrettably, our neighborhood is not among the best in Chicago; however, there is a lot of hope and talent here. Our community needs something like this because we only have a few activities for youth.
I see the commitment from the kids; they want to be better. Sure, there is a lot of work because some kids come with baggage, from broken homes, suffer from anger issues and anxiety, and have dealt with hard things in life.
Witnessing the meaningful impact of our club on young people, their families, and the community throughout all these years gave me all the encouragement and reasons to work and spread the word about how this place helps marginalized youth.
I work the night shift at my full-time job with the U.S. Postal Service, so I can come to the boxing club during the day and do what is needed as a Board Treasurer.Still, this is not the hard part of the job. This has so much value for my community; I don’t see it as a job. The difficult part is convincing our funders and others that boxing is good for our community.
Some people still don’t see boxing as a good sport for kids. A lot of people still perceive boxing as violence.From my experience as an observer, boxing needs a lot of discipline – and this club creates and maintains the ties required for the betterment of our community.
I have seen many kids coming in here with anxiety and anger. They think they can take on anyone. However, when we put them in a ring, they cannot take a round because it takes a lot of conditioning. At this point, they take it as a challenge that changes their attitude.
I see them grow; I see them engage for the better. Besides the youth themselves, I have seen firsthand how the community respects what happens in this church basement. In Mexican culture, boxing is very integral in our lives. This is a sport that Mexicans like a lot, so we see a lot of families coming here.
Looking Forward, While Cherishing our Progress
Initially, people saw boxing as violence. But then they started to see that these kids were not fighting but boxing. They started to see that thanks to this club, these kids were staying out of street fights and were being more respectful.
It was new for the community that these kids were also competing nationally. Our kids have gone to Utah, California, Missouri, and Texas. We had four Olympic contenders right before COVID-19 hit. The community started changing their perception when they started seeing the results of our work. We are constantly open to the community, and we engage them.
We open the gym and we invite everyone to come and watch the kids. We learned that before kids go to compete, they get nervous and want to take a step back. So, we do sparring sessions here and invite family and friends so kids start familiarizing themselves with the competition. We also hold community gatherings that include food, entertaining games, and fun together.
Enhancing Brown and Black Cooperation
Little Village is separated into North Lawndale (mostly Black) and South Lawndale (primarily Mexican). We unite the kids from both sides. We promote unity and show them that brown and black can work together, engage, and love each other.
This aspect of our work brings me closer to Goldin Institute’s mission and its community-driven approach to social justice. Participating in the Goldin Institute’s Chicago Peace Fellows Program in 2022 taught me to speak my mind and be more open. I gained many friendships and networking from the Goldin Institute; it is ongoing. Just because I graduated, it doesn’t mean that the connection ended. I see it as a valuable process and appreciate the process Goldin Institute put me through. They brought me into Chicago neighborhoods that I would not go otherwise.
For the symbolic amount of $25 a month, anyone aged eight and up can join our club and be a part of our growing community.
Another way to be part of us and support us is by donating.
Whichever form of contribution you choose, we will wholeheartedly appreciate it.