Brandon Wilcox, 30, a professional boxer, grew up around boxing in the St. Louis, Mo., area, where his father, Anthony, was an amateur boxer. While he said his parents steered him away from the boxing arena, the current Hampton resident now teaches boxing to Clayton County youth seeking fitness and alternatives to gang activity.
Since last year, Wilcox has taught youth boxing classes at the Jim Huie Recreation Center in Jonesboro. Twice a week, Wilcox teaches introductory and advanced courses on the fundamentals of boxing to students in elementary, middle and high school.
While Wilcox said boxing always appealed to him, he didn't begin training in boxing until he moved to Riverdale in the early 1990s. At that time, he said, he began training with friend and former classmate, Roshii Wells, a protégé of Evander Holyfield and a bronze medalist in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games for boxing in the middleweight division.
"I didn't really start boxing until I came down here," Wilcox said. "We [he and Wells] lived in the same neighborhood. He was being chaperoned by Holyfield at the time, and I just kind of tagged along with him and went to all of the gyms he went [to]."
Wilcox said he attended Allen University in Columbia, S.C., in 2003 to play football, but that a 2004 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury ended his football career. While healing, Wilcox began boxing again, eventually taking it up full time. At the age of 24, he took up Muay Thai kickboxing, winning a bronze medal at the 2006 World Kickboxing Association U.S. Amateur National Championship in Hampton, Va., he said.
Wilcox said he became a professional boxer last year and that between fights, he teaches classes at the Jim Huie Recreation Center to give back.
"Coming from an impoverished area ... I know how important it is for kids to have something positive to do that they like to do," he said. "Doing boxing helped me because it helped me figure out that I could move forward in my life and that it didn't have to be stagnant. It gives them [kids] a positive activity to do all year long, as opposed to some other sports that are only for a season ... it is a proven deterrent from getting in trouble."
Lizcha Bennett, a self-employed mother from Hampton, said her daughter, Chente Myhand, 14, has taken Wilcox's class for four months. During that time, she said, her daughter has lost 12 pounds and gained self control and valuable self-defense techniques.
"It's actually calmed her down some," Bennett said. "She's not as quick to fight people in school. She's a natural fighter, but I want her to learn some technique, so she can defend herself from bigger and not-so-nice people. It's dangerous for little girls, so they need to know how to defend themselves."
Clifton Massey, a project manager from Jonesboro, entered his two sons, Justin, 11, and Juwan, 13, in the class a month and a half ago. In that time, he said, he has seen a boost in the health and confidence of his children.
"I wanted them to be more active instead of just sitting around playing video games," Massey said. "They are more confident ... way more confident, and they are excited about coming. When they get older, they'll want to keep up the same kind of physical training."
Wilcox said he is interested in offering boxing classes at the Forest Park Recreation Center and eventually starting his own boxing gym. In the meantime, he said he is happy working with the kids at the Jim Huie Recreation Center.
"It makes me feel good that I am doing something good for my community and helping the kids find something that is exciting to them," he said.