- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2004

A former world boxing champion hopes his new center in Northwest will encourage teens to take out their aggression in the ring instead of on the street.

Keely Thompson, 39, is teaming up with D.C. Council member Jim Graham to open Keely’s District Boxing Youth Center as an extension of work he does with troubled youths.

“There’s a lot of aggression, a lot of resentment in some of our neighborhoods,” said Mr. Graham, Ward 1 Democrat. “We can channel this in a positive way.”

About 450 youths are in the boxing training program, and about 150 of them were in gangs at one time, Mr. Thompson said. The center, which is located in the basement of the Casa del Pueblo United Methodist Church, will have a grand-opening ceremony June 22. The church is at 1459 Columbia Road NW.

The boxer tells stories of children with gang-related injuries — a 15-year-old who had three fingers severed by rival gang members, or a 12-year-old whose stomach was stitched after being shot twice.

“Kids are the future, and these kids need something,” said Mr. Thompson, who held the International Boxing Council’s lightweight championship title from 1990 to 1994. “We teach them discipline. We are making a big difference.”

It is more than just a gym, said Calvin Woodland, who works in Mr. Graham’s office. The program also helps teenagers with schoolwork and offers computer training.

The ring won’t be a place for gang wars, organizers said. The training will stimulate teens mentally and socially to use careful techniques and skills as they box.

“Their aggression must be channeled carefully,” said Mr. Woodland, who is a former boxer.

The program is free to those 8 to 18 years old. Mr. Thompson hopes to expand it to each ward in the District.

Mr. Thompson is helping teens in the same center where he launched his boxing career, in the same neighborhood where he grew up. He said his goal is to make the streets safer.

Mr. Graham obtained $60,000 in city funds for the center, but Mr. Thompson said more money is needed. Much of the program is operated by volunteers, he said.

“We’re way underfunded, so we are doing it for free,” Mr. Thompson said.

Mr. Graham met Mr. Thompson two years ago and the two came up with the concept of a boxing school and training center for youths.

“We thought it might relate well with the kids,” particularly those at high risk of joining gangs, Mr. Graham said.

Mr. Graham said Mr. Thompson is a role model for the children. “They respect him,” Mr. Graham said. “He’s a person of real accomplishment.”

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