University City

Boxing academy reaches out to help the homeless

Social change was the last thing on boxing coach Al Simpson's mind as he returned home late one night from an day-long tournament.

Driving through Charlotte's streets as he took some of his boxers home, Simpson noticed the people, apparently homeless, wandering the streets.

On Oct. 8, Charlotte Boxing Academy and Hope Haven will host what organizers hope will be an annual boxing exhibition at the residential recovery center.

Hope Haven residents and those less fortunate from other Charlotte shelters will be treated to a day of boxing-themed activities and visits from local celebrities.

The Charlotte Boxing Academy is a program that operates through Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation. It is established at the Revolution Sports Academy where youth and adult boxers train with state-of-the-art equipment and a 22-foot-by-foot ring.

Its fighters compete in USA Boxing and Golden Gloves events throughout the Southeast. It is after these tournaments that Simpson quite often finds himself on Charlotte's roads, taking kids home.

"I saw baby carriages and little kids," Simpson said. "It was still hot outside. I was like 'wow', I thought they always went to the shelters. But once (the shelters) get so many people they can't get everyone in there.

"Driving up and down Tryon I wonder if they are ever afforded the chance to see an event. I'm thinking let's do that for them."

So Simpson contacted Hope Haven and spoke with Melissa Thompson, vice president of public affairs and outreach. Hope Haven assists homeless and chemically dependant adults and their families.

"All I could think is what you see on TV," said Thompson. "Like a (world champion) Floyd Mayweather fight, like our parking lot is going to be filled. But I'm always willing to partner.

"When he came and talked about his vision it was very evident that he really did care about the community and wanted to share his talents to brighten up the day of someone who doesn't see the sunny side."

The event will begin at 10 a.m. with a collection of personal items for Hope Haven residents. Members of the public are encouraged to donate toiletries, razors, and alarm clocks.

At the same time, an autograph session with local boxing celebrities Calvin Brock and Kelvin Seabrooks will begin. At noon, former Charlotte Motor Speedway president and general manager Humpy Wheeler, a member of the Charlotte Boxing Academy's board of directors, will be the keynote speaker.

Simpson estimates that the CBA will have four or five sparring matches, followed by a demonstration by members of the Revolution Sports Academy's martial arts program. Among the boxing members will be 15-year old Rodaja Burris, who placed second at the 2011 state Golden Gloves tournament.

"It makes me feel as if I'm giving back to the community," she said.

Charlotte Boxing Academy fighters are no strangers to community service. At last weekend's Queen City Invitational tournament, CBA boxers were encouraged to bring hats, coats, and gloves for homeless shelters around the city.

Simpson has also directed canned food and back-to-school supplies drives in conjunction with other CBA sponsored events.