For the past three months I have been dedicating my Saturdays to an incredible program called Inner City Weightlifting. The program takes young people who are on a direct path to gang involvement and provides them with opportunities to participate in the sport of Olympic Lifting. Inner City Weightlifting provides students with career opportunities working for the nonprofit itself and in the field of personal training. The sport, coaches, and atmosphere facilitate a positive change for these students. As a student attempts to set a new personal record (PR) for weight lifted, everyone stops and watches. The lifters help ‘pump up’ the student’s morale and something unexpected happens: children who have been given limited support outside of a gang, are now encouraging each other, and a bond and team is formed. Every Saturday I look forward to spending time with this group of amazing young people and am reminded of the power of believing in the potentiality of others.
Stories demonstrating the success of the program
One student came to us 2 months ago. He was a member of one of the most high-profile gangs in Boston, and had been in and out of jail since his early teens. In January, 2010 he was shot 5 times in the torso. He was left paralyzed from the waste down, and homeless.
When we first started working with him, his future was dim. Over the last two months, however, his attitude has changed. We found him a job opportunity working with us, he is considering furthering his education, and he has made incredible progress in the strength and motion of his legs.
A few weeks ago, we got a call from his caseworker at Boston Medical Center. In the background we heard his voice shouting "ask them how many pull ups I do now!"
At the next practice he approached the coaches. He was getting papers signed, so we can work closely with his psychiatrist as well. Our coaches said, "Of course. Always let us know if there is anything we can do to help."
His response, "You already are."
Another story about one of our students….
“Eduardo” grew up on streets claimed by MS-13. He joined the gang at age 13. By 14, he was locked up for a year. Upon release he was stabbed and jumped several times. He faces an almost overwhelming pull to return to a life of violence.
Eduardo was under house arrest when we met. We set up equipment in his basement. At this time he was considering dropping out of school. During our sessions he spoke about what he had been through. We listened. At his next court appearance we lobbied his probation officer to let us work with him in a proper training facility.
Eduardo has been training at our gym for four months now. In truth, he has a chance. He’s set a goal of lifting more weight than anyone else in his weight class. He’s begun to speak about turning his grades around and attending Michigan State. Lifting, he’s told us, is his way to stay out of trouble. It is something he cannot do drunk or stoned. He cannot be at the gym and wandering the streets simultaneously. Eduardo now wants to come to practice every day.
The biggest obstacle which we are facing at Inner City Weightlifting is finding facilities where we can bring our students to train. Many facilities have closed their doors after learning more about the students we work with and what backgrounds they have. Less than 1% of the population in Boston is responsible for more than 50% of the youth violence. Inner City Weightlifting is providing these youth with the confidence to say no to violence and yes to opportunity. It’s amazing what can happen if we open the doors for opportunity.
Links and Videos
Here is a news clip which aired on Channel 5
Here is a link to the Inner City Weightlifting website