Heart, faith and love.
Those are the ingredients propelling Percy Mack, Willie Jones, Sam Binion, and the other people involved in The Ring of Hope, a fledgling boxing program in the city’s Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood.
The men run the program schooling the 30 or so youngsters in the ‘Sweet Science’ in a cavernous room at 7445 S. South Chicago Ave.
Last night sounds of music and people dancing and enjoying themselves at a program fundraiser echoed off the walls. But for three hours on Tuesday through Friday nights and on Saturdays, the sounds are of older men dispensing encouragement and guidance to boys and young men working the speed and heavy bags and honing their emerging skills in the ring.
The name has a double meaning.
On one level, it refers to the boxing ring and the hope that youth can take what they learn there and avoid being snared by the ever-present lure of the streets.
Yet on another level, the ring means the circle of men who came up at a different era, remember what they received from their fathers and want to give the same to this generation.
Percy Mack is the head coach.
A Golden Gloves legend in his time, his boxing career was cut short by a serious car accident in the 70s that took many of his top teeth and badly injured his right side.
The crash did not damage his fierce will or his certainty about how he wanted to spend his life. After having attended college and worked as an interior decorator, he returned to boxing, his original love.
Mack worked for the city coaching boxing for years. Now 62 and retired, he is continuing his mission in The Ring of Hope.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the kids,” he said last night while watching the Bears’ hated rivals the Green Bay Packers outlast a gritty but error prone Pittsburgh Steelers team.
This sensibility animates Jones, too.
He and his family were the second black family to move into the area near Paul Revere school in the late 1950s. He remembers being chased home by white boys in his first couple of years. Just three years later, the flight of white residents had already reversed to the point where the tables were reversed.
Jones spent a couple of years in Brockton, Mass. and has traveled to West Africa for his work as a coffee commodities trader, and his ultimate loyalty is to the community in which he was raised.
The director for years of Black Men Sharing and Caring, he knew he had to do something else to provide another set of options for the boys growing up in the same neighborhood as he did a half century ago.
Many of the boys do not have fathers in their lives, so Jones and the other men try to provide that for them.
He also drops in doses of neighborhood history, pointed social analysis and a religious and spiritual purpose to his work.
In between talking about the devastating impact the introduction of credit had on black communities and giving his perspective about the crisis in Egypt-among other point, he noted that there is no such thing as the Middle East, but that Egypt is in Africa-Jones talked about G-‘d’s bringing him and the other men to do this work.
Binion is one of the other leaders.
The Pockettown native no longer works for the Gary Comer foundation, and his community organizing skills remain as sharp as ever, if not even more so for the unfettered freedom and spiritual sense of purpose he brings to the work.
“I’d do this for free,” Binion said, yelling above the hard pumping beat of the music that emanated from the elevated ring.
For the moment, Binion and the program get by on donations provided by grateful parents or other community members appreciative of the men’s efforts to instill a sense of responsibility and discipline and possibility in the young men.
They need more, though.
Binion has enlisted a lawyer and former classmate from Hyde Park High School to help with the fundraising efforts, and they will need plenty of help.
My brother Jon, who is documenting the project, has already put a series of clips on YouTube that you can watch. In this one, the care the older men have for their charges is evident.
I hope you consider supporting these difference makers as they mobilize their heart, faith and love for the neighborhood in which they came up to help this generation avoid the streets and become productive citizens.