What is the Straight Forward Club and who are the young people that you work with?
Ben: The Straight Forward Club (SFC) is primarily a boxing community program that serves youth and young adults all the way from 7 to 34 years olds. Primarily Straight Forward Club targets young people up to 24 year olds. While learning and training as boxers, our young people at Straight Forward Club find a safe-haven and fellowship, and often times our purpose is to divert youth from drugs, alcohol, life of crime, and gangs outside the ring. SFC becomes more like family. Everyone forms a bond with each other.
Our program is growing because of the success of our young people in and out of the boxing ring. SFC is a big name for young people who want to box, so youth come from all over San Francisco, and also Oakland, Hayward, and all over the Bay.
What are the goals of the Straight Forward Club? What do you want the young people to get out of this program?
Ben: SFC builds champions inside and outside the boxing ring. To us at SFC, champions outside the ring are the guys who have gone on to graduate from college, who can come out and be responsible parents, who are working; they are the champions outside the ring. Boxing is based on discipline, hard work. You build a positive self-image when you learn to box. Young people start to see their abs popping out, they start feeling better about themselves, watching their weight and diet. The things they get in the ring, you take with them through their whole life. Some girls in the Mission, little girls, I’m fascinated to see them be so brave in the ring, to have courage, and to not be afraid. You can’t go in the ring and just close your eyes, just like in life. When I see this courage in the ring, I see that the kids also learn to confront their fears in life. We teach them to stay focused, use their brain, and think about if they make this move, this is what can happen. Boxing is a science. But I also want kids to get out and become leaders in their own community. Help others out.
What have been some notable accomplishments (from youth, from your staff) that you have seen at Straight Forward Club?
Ben: We’ve been around since 1999. Although we are primarily a boxing program, since we started we have also done numerous alternative youth programs, including other sports and a basketball team. SFC had music program, including a music group that featured youth in juvenile hall who made a CD. The SFC music program back in the day had the One Block Movement which did hip-hop work at community centers. Some of our youth from the music program have gone on to be big rappers who came out who have their own studios and CEOs or their own program.
Starting in 2005, SFC focused mainly on the boxing program. I think sports are a more authentic measurement of youth’s well-being outside the ring, since if you are doing drugs, your coaches can see it when you don’t fight so well. When we switched to primarily a boxing program, that’s when our young people in the program really started flourishing. Our young people escalated to higher levels. We had kids winning golden gloves, championships throughout the nation and the world. Karim Mayfield, a SFC alumnus, is fighting on ESPN August 17th. Another SFC alumnus Richard Hargraves traveled with the international boxing team and another Aaron Coley is fighting on a national level. Our alumnus Raquel Miller went to world championships and is an alternate at the 2012 Olympic Games.
What can we expect from Straight Forward Club in the near future?
Ben: Though many young people come to our gym because we have a good name, we have struggles. We don’t have an ideal gym. Since it is really expensive in San Francisco, our gym is too small, and I know that the money we are paying could get a much bigger gym outside of San Francisco. The building we are in now three floors. The second floor moved out because of the noise between the gym and the club on the first floor of our building. We’ve been on the lease here month to month for a year, we are trying to find a new space, and explore if we can move back into Parks and Rec, the school district in the next few years.
Personally, what lead you to work at Straight Forward Club? Why do you do the work that you do?
Ben: I got involved with the boxing ring because I was exposed to it by my father and my grandfather. Both of them were boxing locally in San Francisco. When I was young, I grew up with a lot of brothers. We always were fighting in the neighborhood, and I was the king of the school yard. Growing up in south of market area in San Francisco, I heard a lot of stories about boxers in the community who made a career of the sport. There were a lot of gyms in San Francisco, and it was the mecca of boxing at the time of the early seventies. Not anymore. But at the time we had the legendary gyms in downtown San Francisco, but they didn’t let kids inside. I was thirteen and started to train. I trained by myself, which shows you how much passion I had for the game.
In the eighties, I became caught up in the streets, juvenile hall, in and out of jail. I was still staying in touch with my coaches at the time. I’d stop by every once in a while. But mainly I was trying to put boxing on the back burner, just get money, hang out, etc. Then my case worker got me a job on youth outreach in the school district, telling my story about dealing with drugs to school students. That’s when boxing called me back, and coaches called be back to train. I helped out some kids at Ocean View, took them on field trips to watch boxing fights, helping them learn to fight. Then I started teaching Ida B. Wells on healthy lifestyles. Since I knew the culture of a continuation school, I saw a lot of truant students, I knew where they were going end up at. That fact bothered me. So I asked the principal if I could start Straight Forward Club (SFC) at Ida B. Wells. At the time I was volunteering my time. We had a SFC basketball team. I figure we got enough students to find my own spot for all of the local youth. And that’s when SFC started.
For any general questions, or if you are interested in training at Straight Forward Club (SFC), please feel free to contact Ben directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.