These kids are in a fightin' mood.
“I want to be the best of the best!”
They're fighting for the glory, the belts and the price, but most importantly for their futures.
“If I wasn’t boxing, I don’t know where I’d be right now, probably be in jail”
Tucked below a residential building in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, the Atlas Cops & Kids Boxing Program is making a difference.
“The point is to keep kids off the streets, and put them in a positive direction,” Pat Russo, director of Atlas Cops and Kids boxing programs, said.
Pat Russo, a retired NYPD officer, started the program in 1985.
“I was a rookie cop in the 72nd precinct in Sunset Park," Russo said. "[Kids were] getting in trouble, they’re joining gangs, and they’re getting involved with drugs because they had nothing to do.”
At the time, he had just joined the NYPD boxing team.
"I had never boxed before but I fell in love with the sport," he remembered. "I said you know what this is the perfect carrot on a stick that’s the going get to the kids."
“They learn discipline, they learn respect, and they learn a work ethic.”
The free programs ran successfully through the Police Athletic League until about 2007, when they were shut down
“Patty called me up and said look I got nowhere else to go, would you think about subsidizing these gyms," Teddy Atlas said.
Theodore "Teddy" Atlas Jr., a legendary boxing trainer, said okay.
He decided to use funds raised through the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, which he started in honor of his father.
“I said I wanted to change one thing," Atlas said. "I wanted to put in an educational component.”
Each of the program's three locations has a tutor and mentor.
“I talk to them and see where they might need help moving forward in their lives," Sarah Deming, a former boxer and current tutor, said. "[I] either help with school work, some kids come in early to do their homework with me.”
The results show it's working.
“Ever since I joined the program, my grades went up," Henry, a 15-year-old member of the program, said. "I feel like I’m more focused.”
And if they average an A, the gym gives the kids get $50 each report card.
This program also has led to great success for athletes in the ring too.
“This program molded me into the person I am today,” Marcus Browne said.
Marcus Browne started training with the Atlas Cops & Kids Boxing Program when he was just 13 years old.
“[It's] the greatest thing I’ve ever done.”
Now, he's a professional boxer and an Olympian. But he continues to come back and give the kids advice.
"I tell these kids everything, everything they don’t want to hear," Browne explained. “The truth always comes out in the ring, so no matter what you’re doing outside in the world, if you’re living wrong, it’ll show in this ring.”
18-year-old Christopher Colbert knows that all too well.
“I stopped going to school for a little while, because I just wanted to box," Christopher Colbert said. “But my strength and conditioning coach Sarah and Teddy Atlas they pushed me to go back to school. Now I'm back in school and trying to get my grades up."
And for Russo, seeing the kids all grown up and successful is his greatest satisfaction.
"Now, they’re NYC police officers, some teachers and a few firefighters," Russo said. [They're] saying because this program kept me off the street, I am what I am today.”
No matter who it is, all of these kids are here for the same reason.
“They just want to be part of something that’s positive.”
But for Colbert, it was more than just that.
"Atlas Cops & Kids foundation, they’re just a great program, it saved my life.”
This program currently has three gyms: Flatbush Gardens (Brooklyn), Park Hill (Staten Island), and Berry Houses (Staten Island).
It hopes to expand, with the help of the community, to as many locations in all five boroughs.
PRODUCED BY: KIM PESTALOZZI