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CHICAGO — As a boxing coach and mentor, Derek Brown has fought to keep Chicago’s youth off the streets and into the boxing ring while providing them with a safe environment. But as boxing matches have taken a blow from the pandemic, he has had to find other means of reaching at risk kids

Brown trains his students how to jab and throw a punch, but his real goal is teaching these kids how to fight negativity through boxing.

“Fighting is our fishing tool, in our community,” he said. “ Everybody wants to be bad, so bring your bad self on over here.”

Boxing Out Negativity is the name of his non-profit. Brown gets kids from North Lawndale into the door with his boxing technique, but once they’re inside, he keeps them here by giving them a place to be heard and become empowered.

“Anytime something happens, we do a peace circle and we’ll talk and we’ll give everybody a chance to speak who ever holds the glove has the floor and that person who holds the glove, we don’t judge,” he said.

He came up with idea when he watched a group of kids throwing rocks at cars over a decade ago.

“So I reached out and gave them what they were lacking, which was attention and I gave them most powerful tool that you could give a human being and that was love,” Brown said.

Brown was born and raised in North Lawndale and spent most of his teen years in and out of jail.  

“I ended up selling drugs,” he said. “I ended up moving up inside the gang rankings and I started distributing instead of selling. I started cooking up drugs and just feeding it to the community.”

Brown, who was nicknamed “Shotgun” has experienced the dark side of gang life and he knew he had to get out to survive. 

“Me going to jail again, me being shot again, my best friend ended up being killed,” he said.

Brown uses stories from his past to deter the kids from a life of crime. He hopes the discipline the kids learn from boxing will be transferrable to real life situations.

“These young guys go out and make split second decisions, just like in the ring a punch will come at you and you have to move out of the way,”

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an unfortunate effect on the children. It has disrupted much of the boxing program as well as the competitions this past year. Brown said he’s already lost some of them to the streets.

“The streets are 24/7 so the master of learning is repetition so it’s easier for a young man to go back to do what he was doing,” Brown said.

But he remains hopeful, this past summer he held the first annual Bike Ride for Peace in the community, and he stays engaged with the young boxers through Facebook. 

“They see that commitment from him they see that love from him and they feel the joy,” Julie Globokar, board chair of his organization, said.

Brown said Boxing Out Negativity isn’t just a program, it’s a way of life. He’s hoping as the pandemic eases he’ll get some kids back. Until then, he reflects on the program’s accomplishments thus far.

“We have youth that are going to college, we have youth that our honor students so that is the most precious gift that I could ever accomplish,” he said.

Derek Brown is one of Chicago’s Very Own.

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