Boxing legend Muhammad Ali’s daughter, Rasheda Ali, is trying to knock out youth violence in Chicago by getting more kids in the ring and off of the streets.
She teamed up with the the Illinois State Crime Commission and Police Athletic League of Illinois Thursday to unveil an initiative that she said hits close to home.
Ali witnessed the effects of gun violence growing up in Chicago.
Her cousin was an innocent bystander when he was shot and killed in 1997.
“He was an honor roll student and not affiliated with any gangs,” she said. “Our family has been devastated ever since, we’ll never get over this loss. If I can save at least one child from being gunned down in front of their home, then this work that we’re doing here today is worth it.”
Most of the team assembled for Ali’s anti-violence youth initiative, like Ali, have also personally encountered gun violence.
Thomas Hayes, program and event director with the Chicago Park District said his experience with gun violence led him to the cause.
Hayes was just a teenager when he was shot in the arm while waiting at a bus stop on the South Side.
“It just goes to show you, you don’t have to be a gang member to get into trouble, to get shot,” Hayes said.
Hayes said, through the help of many people involved in the boxing initiative, he was able to stay on the right track and graduate from high school and college.
Jerry Elsner, executive director with the Illinois Crime Commission, is a former boxer who grew up on the South Side.
He said the key to the program is that it goes beyond just attacking the violence where it’s at.
“All the marching, all the praying, all the singing ain’t going to do no good,” Elsner said.
Elsner said boxing can help to fill a void for a lot of kids that grew up like him, while providing an outlet for their aggression.
“Somebody has to show you and tell you you’re a winner,” Elsner said. “Every guy in Chicago and in the gangs and whatever want to be a tough guy... and... they can be.”
The program will host their first boxing event on May 5..
About 40 youth boxers are expected to be featured.
Children involved in the program who maintain a “B” average in school and are involved in the required community service can qualify for college scholarships.