A former Olympian has started up a boxing program in the city of Chicago, and it’s having a big impact on young people throughout the city.
Montell Griffin, who competed in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, participates in the “After School Matters” program to give CPS teens a chance to explore new talents, and to stay safe after school.
That last part of the organization’s credo speaks loudly to Griffin, who has felt the loss that gun violence can leave friends and family with on Chicago’s streets.
Griffin’s good friend Reuben Jones was killed by errant gunfire in the city in 1989, but he insists to outsiders that the city isn’t the violence-ravaged war zone that it’s often portrayed as.
“Everywhere I travel, when I bring up Chicago, people think when you come here, there’s people running down the streets shooting each other,” he said. “That’s the first thought that comes to their mind. I tell them it’s not like that, but it is dangerous. I’m trying to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
After Griffin lost his good friend, he grew depressed and overweight, and lost his way. Now, he’s found a path that leads him to do good in the lives of others, and he wants to prevent others from experiencing that pain.
“I know how it is when you lose somebody,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of sad mom’s and families in Chicago because the violence is out of hand. We just got to come together as one, to try to make the best of the situation and try to keep these youths alive. I’ll be 48 years old this year, and I want other kids to be able to reach my age.”
More than a dozen high schoolers participate in programs at Griffin’s gym, and they have noticed the classes making an impact in their day-to-day lives.
“I have friends who are scared of me, because I say, “I do boxing” – they’re like what?,” student Citlalli Garcia says.
Sophomore Jermaine Gross also works out with Griffin, and says it is the perfect after-school activity.
“It lets me release the negative energy onto the bag, and provides me with different opportunities,” he said. “It makes me want to do something instead of wanting to be on the streets, follow a crowd – it makes me want to do something better.”
In addition to his commitment to social justice, Griffin also brings quite the boxing pedigree to the gym thanks to his Olympic experiences and thanks to his father’s friendship with Muhammad Ali.
Even still, Griffin didn’t always plan on opening a gym, but now that he has, he can’t imagine himself doing anything else.
“This is my calling. I was born to do this,” he said. “This is probably something that happened for a reason to go into this for the rest of my life.”