While training at a local boxing gym in Milwaukee in 2017, Jared Bell watched as a boy from Puerto Rico trained alongside him. The boy came from a difficult family situation but found boxing as an outlet. Bell witnessed that the physical exercise and discipline of the sport changed the boy into a strong young man full of passion and certainty. It was then that Bell realized the influence boxing and other martial arts could have on young lives.
Bell was inspired by this young man and wanted to help other youth lacking opportunities in Milwaukee. So, that year he started the foundation called City Champs, a nonprofit that provides scholarships to youth, allowing them to train at local martial arts gyms. “We want to come up with the simplest solution to solving a large societal challenge,” says Bell. His idea was not to create a brand-new gym, but instead to utilize the many gyms and seasoned trainers we already have in Milwaukee. Bell looked at studies showing that martial arts and boxing are successful means to help troubled kids. He wanted to use local resources to provide access to youth who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford gym membership.
Martial arts and boxing teach discipline and respect. In the ring, opponents bow to one another or shake hands before beginning a match. Trainers stress that fighting is only used in competition or for self-defense. Initiating violence is unacceptable, and most trainers of the sports will not let their students practice if they break those rules. When youth come to train in the gyms, they are not learning to fight, but are learning control, focus and confidence.
City Champs started by partnering with the Sixteenth Street Clinic to offer an eight-week program where kids can try different martial arts disciplines at participating community centers. The goal of the program is to help kids build self-assurance and provide different training options that best fit each student. The participants who graduate from the program are eligible to apply for a one-year gym scholarship, which gives them a free gym membership, including access to the equipment.
In the last two years, City Champs has given away five scholarships with the help of generous sponsors. Bell has seen this intensive year of training and mentorship change the lives of the participants. Kids who were aggressive in schools, he explains, turn into hard-working students who have the confidence to achieve their goals.
Bell and the other dedicated people who have worked to build City Champs have no intention of slowing down. City Champs will soon have a course that Milwaukee Public Schools students can take at Bradley Tech High School. They are keeping busy writing curricula and developing new programs that will strengthen the self-esteem of our city’s youth, working to build up the future members of our community. “I want to leave something greater behind,” says Bell. “I think everybody wants to belong to something bigger than themselves.”
Learn more at citychamps.org.
Read the article on the Shepherd Express.