Girls Get In The Ring

Melissa Bailey Photo“Some people were saying that girls can’t do everything that boys can do,” said Julianna Roman.

She marched down the street to the neighborhood boxing gym and sought to “prove them wrong.”

Julianna (pictured above), who’s in the 5th grade, is one of 15 students at Fair Haven School who are taking part in a new, two-week-long after-school Girls Boxing Club, which is set to culminate with a celebratory public event from 10 a.m. to noon this Saturday.

Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School senior Ariela Martin created the club with the help of the staff at the Boxing in Faith Gym, which opened five years ago on Grand Avenue.

Martin said she got interested in the boxing gym when she covered a story there as an intern for the New Haven Independent. Martin returned to the gym for a photojournalism project, then went back to learn how to box.

“When I started boxing, I felt empowered. I felt strong. I felt I could take on new situations,” Martin said.

She noticed how few girls there were at the gym.

“I wanted other girls to feel what I felt within.”

Martin set about creating a program that would introduce young girls to boxing. She landed a $2,300 grant from the ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative to get the program going. The Girls Boxing Club met overwhelming interest from kids at Fair Haven School, the city’s 800-student K-8 beacon for immigrant and newcomer kids. Seventy-five girls in the 5th and 6th grades expressed interest in joining. Martin chose 15 of them based on essays they wrote; 12 stuck with the program for the two weeks.

The girls met up with Martin Wednesday in the lobby of Fair Haven School. They walked to the gym next door, donning pink Girls Boxing Club t-shirts.

At the Boxing in Faith Gym, they met coach and co-owner Luis Rosa. Rosa was outside the gym training a female heavyweight pro fighter named Angie Brooks. The girls watched as Brooks punched pads on Rosa’s hands.

“I want to be like you,” one of the girls told Brooks.

Luis and his wife, Marilyn Rosa, who runs a real-estate company next door and also helps out at the gym, led the girls through a warmup.

They ran laps around the parking lot.

“Ándale, ándale!” encouraged their coach.

They strapped on boxing gloves ...

... channeled their inner fighters, and headed inside the gym. Coach Rosa set a clock and announced the first drill: straight punches against the bags.

The room exploded in a flurry of punches. After 90 seconds, girls took a breath. Then Rosa led them into the next round.

“Left, left, right—go to work!” he announced.

After several more rounds, they hit the boxing ring upstairs—not to fight, but to do abdominal exercises.

Kaitlin Gonzalez examined her biceps to see if they had grown.

Rosa took the girls outside for more running and footwork exercises. They raced each other across the parking lot and back in pairs.

Julianna just barely edged out Lashiya Robinson (pictured).

Lashiya recalled the first time she hit the Fair Haven gym ten days prior. Coach Rosa made them punch the bags for three rounds, one minute at a time.

“I was about to give up,” she recalled. “Coach told me to brace myself. That’s when I kept going.”

She said she has learned not only how to punch, but “how to make yourself do more.”

“It was super hard at first,” agreed Julianna. “I wanted to quit, but I didn’t.”

After an hour of exercise, the girls said “hasta luego” to their coach.

Rosa, who’s from Puerto Rico, always makes an effort to greet the kids in the style of the countries their families come from, said Kaitlin. He offered her a special Mexican handshake before she left.

Martin led the girls up to the Girls Boxing unofficial clubhouse, a back room of Rosa Realty, for the second hour of the day, which is focused on academics. Martin made up a curriculum focused on leadership and girls’ empowerment. Girls read the book Esperanza Rising, about a girl who moves to the U.S. from Mexico after her father dies. They talked about what it means to be a role model.

On Wednesday, they planned for a final party, in which they will read essays to their families about what the club has meant to them. The girls went around in a circle, saying how many family members would attend.

The question yielded a glimpse of the challenges some of the girls are facing.

“I don’t know, because my dad gets out of jail tomorrow,” said one girl.

Martin said she has raised money to pay for six of the girls to get a year-long membership to the gym, which costs only $100. Girls were asked to rate how badly they want to keep training there.

Kaitlin said she really hopes to stay.

“I want to be stronger and a braver fighter than what I am now,” she said.

Another student, Amaya Velez, said she was scared when she first showed up to the boxing gym. “I was one of those girls who didn’t know how to defend myself.” A poem she worked on Wednesday showed how she has come to believe otherwise.

“I am strong/ I am powerful,” wrote Amaya. “Nobody can tell me different.”

To make a donation to the Girls Boxing Club, click here.

Past stories on students at Fair Haven School:
VH1 Gets A Left-Handed Thank You
Idled Dental Van To Rev Up Again
Toni Harp & “Toni Harp” Take History’s Stage
Harries Floats Class-Size Switcheroo
A “Snowball” Aims At Latino College Gap
New Recess Rules Kick In
Boys Find A Place On The Stage
Bilingual Ed Overhaul Under Way
New Havener Of The Year
Common Core Hits Fair Haven
Firefighters Respond To The Turkey Call
VH1 Helps 15th City School Start Tooting
Mr. Shen & Ms. Benicio Hit The Books
Maneva & Co. Take On The ‘Burbs
Aekrama & Ali Learn The Drill
Fair Haven Makes Room For Newest Students
From Burundi, A Heart Beats On
As Death Nears, She Passes Down The Dance

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posted by: Seth Poole on May 23, 2014  4:15pm

I had the pleasure of meeting Luis two weeks ago and seeing the very impressive work that he doing with young people.  I hope that his efforts are not ignored by the City and the people of New Haven.  This brother is a treasure to our great city and is doing great work in general.  We spoke as he mopped the gym floor.  He is an inspiration to us all.  Please get up, get out, and do something positive for our community.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on May 23, 2014  6:32pm

Punching bags, I can totally get behind.  Also the sprints, the academics, the camaraderie and the “empowerment.”  But I presume that at some point they will “graduate” to landing real blows, intended to hurt, on other real live kids, including each other (their friends)— and that, frankly, is creepy. 

Actual boxing is no kind of “sport” to encourage kids (girls OR boys) to learn.  The overt goal is to beat your opponent senseless.  It has a much worse record of concussions and brain damage than football.  Martial arts or wrestling, sure.  Landing punches to inflict harm, not so much.

posted by: wbstar on May 23, 2014  6:39pm

Great story of a community coming together for the kids.

posted by: BoxingInFaithGymCoFounder on May 25, 2014  12:05am

Boxing In Faith Gym Inc is a 5013c non profit organization after school youth program founded in 2006. In 2009 the doors to our facility opened. The structure was previously a 4 car garage that was converted into a 2400 sq ft structure.  The labor of love & cost for all the material came from personal funds of the Rosa family.
The program currently welcomes 100’s of young kids ranging from the ages of 9 & up. These kids come from all walks of life.  In the last 8 yrs since we purchase our property we have not only tried to be community supporters but are also business owners of Rosa Realty LLC and residents of Fair Haven. (Talk about putting your money where your mouth is).

The Rosa family has invested our hearts and time into our youth and will continue to do so because we believe in our kids. I hear so many groups/committees/teams being formed to stop the violence, to find solutions on juvenile delinquency, while trying to find resolution in youth crime! Is it working? So many people sit on boards & spend endless hours discussing the problem. Is it working? Hmmm!
Then there are others talking down about the sport of boxing (it’s too violent, it’s harmful, “it’s CREEPY”).
Unless you are doing your part to keep hundreds of kids off the streets daily Or are spending endless hours a week teaching kids discipline & structure while also giving them love & a listening ear, please do not comment on this. I know what we do at BIF GYM! The proof is in the pudding.
It’s amazing that the ones that talk down about the sport have never stepped foot in our facility. But I’m sure they have several board meetings quarterly or maybe even monthly to discuss how bad the streets are and how creepy things are getting!

In response to the ignorant comment about boxing being worst than football please read:
“no disrespect to Football"m.rosa

While all sports pose risk of harm please do not