A handful of boxing gyms in New York City are about to expand their youth outreach with a "life-changing" program called Luta Pela Paz (Fight for Peace).
These four gyms, in neighborhoods prone to violence and crime, are already havens for youth seeking alternatives to such activities. Luta is helping the gyms step their game up as part of the “Life-Changing Project,” instituting after school activities, tutoring, mentoring and job readiness.
Frank Galarza, the point person for the LUTA program at Starrett City Boxing Club in Brooklyn, was even more determined to get the program going after the recent death of a 14-year-old in the Bronx, Shaaliver Douse. Douse was armed and firing at a group of men when he was fatally shot by cops.
“This is something we wanna help out with. We want to reach out and figure out what can we do to help them grow, do what we can on our part,” Galarza said. “He might not have somewhere to go, maybe he’s just kinda lost, that’s what the goal is, to get them off the streets, out of the crime, get them out of the violence and into something positive.”
Galarza is an ideal mentor for kids who may be slipping into drugs, violence and crime: He was once one of those kids.
“I was raised in the Red Hook projects, you know, growing up you constantly see year-round drug dealing,” Galarza said. “I was always having to fight, always having to defend myself.”
Galarza’s father “was involved in the wrong things,” and died when Galarza was 7 years old of complications from a gunshot wound. His mother died just two years later from a drug overdose.
In a way, Galarza was luckier than most in his situation: He had a loving aunt and uncle who took him in and raised him as their own. Their two sons became like brothers to him.
But that didn’t stop him from ending up “in the streets,” he said: “Mentally, I didn’t understand why I had to go through this. I became a troubled kid; I became someone who was very angry. As I got older it didn’t get better, it just got worse. I found myself in the wrong crowds doing the wrong things. I lost myself, mentally.”
Boxing changed all of that, he said, and he’s hoping he can pass that experience on to the young men in Brownsville, East New York and all over Brooklyn who may be stumbling down the same path he did.
“For me,” Galarza said, “Boxing helped me release frustration, helped me control my anger, helped in many areas of my life.”
After his last stint in jail and the death of his older brother in a robbery, Galarza decided to turn his life around. He won his first amateur match at the prestigious Golden Gloves and went pro immediately after. He is undefeated.
Luta founder Luke Dowdney said the four gyms they’re partnering with — in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and New Rochelle — were chosen because they are already trying to do the counseling, mentoring and outreach work that Luta advocates.
”We went out and selected these four as the best we came across that already have this mentality,” Dowdney said. “Already they’re saving lives just by being there.”
Funding for these and other programs is being raised through proceeds from LUTA athleticwear co-designed by professional athletes and youth from the favelas in Rio, Brazil, where the program first started.
Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat