CHICAGO — Jamyle Cannon believes in the power of the punch.
"There's something about boxing that makes you face your problems," said the Portage Park resident and founder of the new boxing-centered nonprofit The Bloc.
Cannon fought outside the ring as a child. Angry about a father who wasn't there, a stepfather who was addicted to crack, and Lexington, Ky. schools where he said it was OK for students to say openly racist things and not get in trouble, Cannon said he fought all the time.
But when he started boxing in college, in a ring, he said he was able to "pinpoint my triggers."
"There's something about going toe-to-toe with someone else that makes you understand something about yourself," said Cannon, who won a collegiate national championship for Kentucky in 2009 in the 147-pound weight division.
Injuries ended Cannon's boxing career, but he wanted to keep his toe in the ring in some facet. That opportunity came when he arrived in Chicago five years ago at DRW College Prep, a high school in North Lawndale that doesn't have its own gym. Cannon, a physical education teacher, started a boxing club in 2012 out of his classroom with a portable boxing ring, and after it gained popularity, moved it to a larger room on the school's second floor.
In its five years, the DRW boxing club has had more than 100 DRW students, including more than a dozen girls. The club, which has seen nine students go to college, has been the foundation for The Bloc, which was officially launched last week and enlists students from several other West Side high schools.
In about a week, Cannon said The Bloc has raised more than $12,000, which he'll use to buy a stationary ring, laptops, educational software and other equipment like desks and chairs for students. He's in the process of searching for a permanent home for The Bloc — which Cannon described as "a group of people that come together for a common cause."
"This is a team effort," Cannon said. "If we're going to do anything to help the kids on the West Side help themselves, there have to be people with the resources to come together to empower them."
Cannon, who has a bachelor's from Kentucky and a master's from Arizona State, said in many ways sees himself in his high school boxers, who are constantly in the ring or hitting the heavy bag while participating in competitions like Chicago Golden Gloves.
DRW sophomore Keyon Pass, of Austin, said before boxing, he was hanging out with the wrong group of friends and almost went to prison. Chikita Davis, a DRW sophomore from North Lawndale, said she used to get bullied, but boxing has enabled her to no longer be afraid.
She also noted that "boxing helps me show that girls can do everything that boys can do."
Tyler Matthews, a DRW senior from East Garfield Park, said the sport has taught him to "rely on my intelligence and not my fists and to push myself to the limits."
From Jan. 1 through Dec. 15, there have been 207 shootings and 27 homicides in North Lawndale, where the neighborhood DRW College Prep inhabits, according to DNAinfo data. Note: Red circles are fatal shootings.
Cannon said the stakes are high. In North Lawndale alone this year through Dec. 15, there have been 207 shootings and 27 homicides, many close to the DRW campus at 931 S. Homan Ave.
"The kids here want the best for themselves but don't always know how to get it," Cannon said. "They have dreams that they haven't felt they've had access to. It's important to find a way to build a bridge from where they are to where they want to be."
For more information on The Bloc, click here.
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