NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The streets offer little forgiveness for life’s mistakes. Second chances often vanish like a distant echo of gunfire.
Consider the research that ranks guns as the number one cause of death among children and teens.
But behind the doors of the Gladiator School Boxing Club in Newport News, young people are fighting to stay out of trouble.
“Every kid that we bring in here is one less kid that’s gettin’ shot or shooting somebody,” said Thomas Kearney, who also uses the first name Spirit. He is the force behind non-profit Phoenix Reborn, where young people get a new start in the ring
“I use boxing as the entry point to explain the process, that life has processes.”
The process at the Gladiator School Boxing Club, which partners with USA Gloves Up, Guns Down and USA Boxing, is one of learning and discipline.
Boxer Jalen McHerrin says boxing relates to life like a game of chess. “Every decision counts. Every move counts when you’re in the ring also.”
Xavier Santos is just 16 and was fighting a losing battle in the streets of South Florida, until joining up with Kearney when his family came to Newport News two years ago.
“I was in the streets. I was doing drugs, selling drugs.”
But a new start at the boxing club has given him hope.
“This is my second home. I don’t want to be just part of the world being just being every 9-5 job. I want to be someone big and leave a mark.”
Boxer Monica McCall is leaving her mark, inspired to fight because of a loss worse than any sustained in the ring. She lost a cousin to gun violence just over a month ago. 27-year-old Charles Mosley was killed on Shea Street in Portsmouth. He leaves behind a daughter.
“I just wish he would have been into this like I was and he wouldn’t have been in that situation.”
The challenge to stay off the ropes becomes more daunting with each life taken on the streets. But there are mentors who offer a better way. Jerry “Slugger” Forrest, a Newport News heavyweight, says the fight never ends.
He often stops by this boxing club on Warwick Boulevard to offer words of encouragement to these young athletes to keep them in the ring and off the street.
“Life’s always a struggle. Life’s always a fight. You know you’re never gonna defeat life.”
Spirit Kearney tries to keep the experience in the gym grounded in reality, teaching that everyone gets knocked down during bouts with life. He raises his voice with the sound of inspiration coming from a church pulpit.
“Get up and try it again! “It’s tough I know. Get back in there.”
Because Kearney knows all too well the alternative can lead to a dead end on these streets.