Christian Boxing Academy

A group of young men, some wearing jeans, jog down the sidewalk, pushing through another relentlessly steamy Southeast Missouri evening. But still, their faces are lit up. The young men are part of the Christian Boxing Academy in Cape Girardeau. The academy, now in its third year, is part of the Salvation Army's after-school program. Danny Rees runs the program and, with help from volunteers, they meet every Tuesday at The Bridge Outreach, a La Croix Church building on South Frederick Street. It's an area where a neighborhood fourth-grade student asked so casually one evening, "Why would they put a church where there are so many gunshots?" The boxing program is open to students from fifth through 12th grades. As students arrive, so do the neighborhood kids. Danny Rees greets them as he stands outside: "Are you hungry?" Do you want some pizza?" The young neighborhood kids know they can always stop by for a slice, and they know there is somebody like Rees, and the other volunteers, there for them. The kids go into the open church, with its beautiful, yet cracked, purple stained-glass windows, get themselves a slice or two and go on with their evening. "(I like) the opportunity for help that all the kids get here," said 13-year-old Jeremiah Johnson. "Like me. I'm not the best at math, but I get the chance to be helped at math." The students have time for homework and tutoring, followed by a roundtable dinner, group discussion and prayer group, then boxing. Rees expresses how generous businesses in the community are in donating food for the program. The open group discussion lends listening ears and caring hearts to students as they talk about what is going on in their lives. The prayer group is an important part of the program, too: Having faith gives you faith in yourself and others, and helps you be a stronger human being. "We get to learn a lot of respect and how to be there for one another. We don't give up on each other," said Anthony Miller, 17. Boxing comes at the end of the program. It's still steamy outside as the students gather in front of the church, stretching in the street and then heading off for a long run around town. When they return, they form a circle on the lawn next to the church. "1, 2, 3, 4....!" they shout in unison as they do jumping jacks, squats and push-ups. Then, partnering up, they put on mouth guards and gloves. "The physical aspect of boxing is a great catalyst to get respect from the physical side first, and then to earn respect based upon the love you show afterward," Rees said. "They are more gracious, they are more caring, yet they still like the physical aspect of doing it." Kweku Arkorful has been volunteering with the program since its birth three years ago. "It's just a great opportunity to have an outreach," he said. "Get out to these guys that people have counted out or people have said that they don't have a chance. 'They can't do this. They can't do that.' And just putting so many stereotypes on. Giving them opportunity and hope for them to be something in this world. They have the opportunity to be great. The Christian Boxing Academy gives them that avenue." People drive by the group, then stop and watch as the young boxers pump their arms back and forth. Maybe they find inspiration in these young men working hard, pushing themselves to be the best they can be. "I like coming here because it's a place where I can push myself to become better," said Davion Jenkins, 15.