A Fighting Chance
When thinking of the iconic Bronx neighborhood, Martial Arts might be one of the last things that spring to mind. Yet, for the young people of 'Fight Back', it is everything.
Fight Back is a Laureus USA-supported project which uses martial arts to boost the confidence & self-esteem of young people in The Bronx, NY.
Michael Quiles arrives early to lead a stretching session for the younger kids and reflects on his early days at 'Fight Back'. "When I first came, I didn’t like anybody,” he says. A fellow participant even recalls Michael as "a very troubled-child".
Yet, ‘Fight Back’ founder Sensei Will Lawton saw something in Michael when no one else seemed to believe in him. “I brought him in,” he said “and what I told him is how to use his anger in another way. We’re going to use it to compete.”
"I believe that 'Fight Back' itself saved Michael’s life. We all came together as a family and saved his life." - Magdelina Souza, Instructor, former student.
That sense of family Magdelina alludes to is palpable the moment you walk into the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth Center, home of 'Fight Back'. Kids of all ages are laughing and running around, seemingly forgetting the difficult environment that surrounds them on a daily basis.
Adina Farrell has been a member since she was 5 years old and, 15 years later, has grown from a quiet, shy girl to one of the programme’s most popular project leaders.
"Apart from all the great values this program brings to all of us, it gives you a sense of family. This is literally my second home." - Adina Farrell, Instructor, former student
"If I'm not home, I’m at the Centre. Even my mom and dad say that Sensei is like my second dad! This is our family here. It is amazing." adds Adina.
The Bronx is an area of the US with the most people living below the poverty line which causes complex issues like youth violence and obesity to persist. Laureus-supported Fight Back uses martial arts to boost confidence and self-esteem of young people in the community to ensure they have the power to be resilient in the face of such adversity.
This programme has caught the eye of many high-profile sporting celebrities: Boxing icon Wladimir Klitschko, athletics legend Edwin Moses, tennis hall-of-famers Martina Navratilova and Monica Seles, and football superstar Raúl Gonzalez have all been moved by the power of sport at ‘Fight Back’.
"I was very impressed with the discipline that these kids have which you need for martial arts. This really is the way to change lives and make a difference. It was a very emotional day for me" reflected Raúl, who scored a record 323 goals in his 16-year career at Real Madrid, and played more than 100 times for Spain.
"It's really about trying to help and convince the kids that it is possible to achieve your dreams. With effort and discipline, everything is possible." - Raúl Gonzalez