Former middleweight champ and Hall of Famer laid to rest...
The Brooklyn gym, which birthed boxing greats like Mark Breland and Riddick Bowe since the 1980s, continues to serve as a community center and safe space for Bedford-Stuyvesant’s youth.
By Camille Bautista
The gates may be down at the New Bed-Stuy Boxing Center, but behind the weathered storefront on Marcus Garvey Boulevard, the gloves are on.
The shrill ringing of a boxing bell can be heard from the street as boys as young as 8 years old pummel punching bags and dodge their trainers — many of whom teach six days a week for free.
The gym, which birthed boxing greats like Mark Breland and Riddick Bowe since the 1980s, continues to serve as a community center and safe space for Bedford-Stuyvesant’s youth.
“So many of our young kids are getting shot down in the street, beat up, all kinds of negative stuff are happening to them,” said Clarence Benyard, manager and trainer at the gym. “We decided to take the gym over and try to save as many lives as we possibly can.”
Benyard and fellow manager Nate Boyd assumed leadership of the New Bed-Stuy Boxing Center after the death of renowned trainer George Washington in 2006.
“George had been doing it here for about 45 years and he wasn’t getting paid for it,” Boyd said. “We do this here because it was so important to him. He was the way, the foundation, everything.”
An image of Washington’s face adorns the teal walls at 275 Marcus Garvey Blvd., alongside the portraits of Golden Gloves champions like Michael Bentt, Tanya Dean and Mitchell Rose.
Among the titleholders is Breland, a Bed-Stuy native and Olympic gold medalist who trained under Washington. When he’s not conditioning the new World Boxing Council’s world heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, he’s at the gym working out with aspiring young athletes.
“There’s a lot of history here and it means a lot to give back,” Breland said. “When I was coming up we had the windows open and people used to stand outside looking in because there was no room while they watched us spar.”
Metal gates now block the view to protect the privacy of the NYPD officers that also use the space to practice inside, according to managers, but the center still draws the attention of passersby.
The gym caught the eye of Joseph C. Grant Jr., ambassador of arts and culture to Councilmember Robert Cornegy Jr.
“One of the main goals I wanted to have was to make sure the gym lives up to its full potential,” Grant said. “They were going out of their own pocket to make sure the kids had a safe place, a safe haven.”
For $20 a month, up to seven trainers provide daily lessons for kids ages 8 through 15. Adults can use the facilities and box for $75.
Still, Boyd and Benyard said they accept whatever community members can afford.
“Even today, we’re not making a lot of money here. Half the people come in don’t have, and we don’t kick people out,” Boys said. “We’re not about that, we’re about saving lives and helping those we can help.”
The broken-down sign outside the gym reads “Do or Die We Do, We Don’t Die.”
More than half the punching bags, mats, and equipment are donations from the NYPD Fighting Finest Boxing Team, which trains at the center.
Officers spar alongside the boys, and the interaction provides a positive influence, according to the team’s head coach.
“You can’t shoot a gun with boxing gloves on,” Grant said. “So if kids are engaging in some kind of activity and understanding how to defend themselves, it’ll be a lot less easy for them to pick up a gun and go shoot someone.”
With the help of Grant, the New Bed-Stuy Boxing Center will be honored at an event hosted by Councilman Cornegy’s office called “Welcome to My Bed-Stuy, Boxing in the Square” on May 23.
The event, which will be held at Herbert Von King Park, will pay tribute to boxing greats that have left their mark on the gym, including Breland, Ronald McCall, and Sadam Ali.
“This will always be a great place and it was always more than just boxing,” Breland said. “It was always about being the best you can be.”