Why you should care
Because it’s better to be helped by one than carried by six.
In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”
Sally Hazelgrove, president of Restoring the Path, a nonprofit boxing school
South Side, Chicago
My day was good. One of the lieutenants bought some clothes for a young man we got reenrolled in school. Half the time, the boys don’t have food, their clothes are dirty and stinky — would you want to go to school like that? We can’t fix the families, but we can be the family.
After growing up in the North Side of Chicago, I started working in Englewood in 2000. I was volunteering with a court-mandated program for juveniles and was struck by the amount of young men going into the juvenile system and then also dying in the streets, shooting each other. You see that there are 150,000 gang members in Chicago — they are doing something right to keep the youth. I surveyed the boys, asking them what would get them off the block. And boxing was the No. 1 answer.
So I decided to do everything a gang did. Instead of drugs and guns, boxing and music are my platforms. It’s that network of youth that attracts them. With us, there are 300 boys enrolled total; a few dozen come in each day. We have 20 boys on the payroll here. I knew they needed to make a little money — just like in the gang. We don’t refuse anyone: The gang doesn’t make you sign a sheet saying you’ll attend a certain amount of times a week. The most important thing is to get them here, hook them, and soon they start changing before our eyes. Our No. 1 question: Are they playing with guns? Everyone has access to guns here.
Change is not a light switch; it’s a process. We had boys who were gang-banging, gun-toting, and, years later, they are on the honor roll at school. We want bad behavior to come out a little bit — we can’t correct it otherwise. Our model is we accept them just as they are. When I give responsibility to the toughest boys, they thrive on it. Now they are taking in other boys themselves. The 19-year-olds now, when their friends have no place to stay, they’ll say, “Sally, they’re staying with me, I’m feeding them.” It’s a machine, and they have taken over — and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We had boys who came in here so angry and sad. I’ll ask them, “Do you believe in God?” If they say yes, I can use that as a tool. If they say no, I say, “I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t either in your shoes.” One 14-year-old responded: “I’m living in Hell. I’m just waiting to die to go to Heaven.” Now he is getting better. He’s happy.
You have to be willing to choose your battles, let go of conflict right away and treat them like they are your own child. People criticized me for raising my children, who are now 12 and 13, here. And I used to ask: “How are my children’s lives any more valuable than any other child’s?” Now we live in Northern Indiana and I commute. There was just so much shooting around the house, and my children had been through a lot. It changes you — you become very much about fight or flight. But somebody has to be willing to step in, make a difference. There were 85 homicides in Englewood, and 365 people wounded, in 2016. It was higher than 2015, but I’m always looking at that and saying, “Can we get down on that list, from being No. 1 or No. 2?” I’ve always said if we can change Englewood, we can change anywhere.