On a rainy Tuesday in March of 2004, after more than ten years of drug dealing, stealing, and illegal gambling, JT found himself facing arrest after getting caught with an empty cocaine bag. On that same day, JT decided that it was time to make a change in his life.
“Out of all the poker I done played, all the dice I done shot, all the negative criminal activities I’d done, I go to jail for the residue of an empty bag,” he said. “And that kind of triggered something in me. So from there to this day here I’ve been clean, since March 4th, 2004. And from there, I started my walk, as far as trying to help the next man not to fall down and stay down.”
After leaving his old life behind, JT began working in low-paying cleaning and construction jobs around New Brunswick. When a friend offered him a job fixing up an old, disused building on Jersey Avenue, he had no clue he would later end up owning the building, or using it to open up a boxing gym for inner city youth.
“They did the closing on the building,” he said. “And then they called me up, gave me the keys. And that’s how I ended up here.”
JT now owns Brunswick Boxing and Fitness Club, a boxing gym where he and a group of trusted coaches train people for both recreational and competitive boxing. Along with the gym, JT also runs a nonprofit outreach program called SAVE (Skills, Awareness, Values, and Enrichment). The boxing gym provides an athletic outlet for New Brunswick youth, while SAVE provides a safe space for young people to receive mentorship and learn various life skills.
Sitting in his office, surrounded by pictures of former trainees and boxing trophies, JT explains how he decided to turn the building into a boxing gym after the only other community center in New Brunswick was closed down by the city.
“I wanted to open up another center, where the youth had somewhere to go, because we didn’t have anywhere to go,” JT said. “[And that’s how] I ended up opening up a boxing gym. Just so that the children and people had something to do in their own community again.”
Born in New Brunswick, JT was raised in Detroit, Michigan, where he was one of 11 children. He went through a tough, poverty-stricken childhood, which culminated in him leaving home at the age of 12.
Through Brunswick Boxing and SAVE, JT’s goal is to help young people going through life experiences like his own, and give them an alternative to spending time out on the streets like he did.
“We give them the best resources that we could give them, and we let them know they can come here and do their homework, then go out [to the gym] and work out,” he said. “And then at SAVE, we want to give you a skill, we want to give you a trade…something you can fall back on.”
Aside from simply helping others, JT also wants to be able to inspire them to help others in return. For him, being able to pay it forward is key.
“That’s the basic part that we learn here,” JT said. “When you start opening up your hands and helping other people, you’re not going to lose.”