South Philly gym owner launches free youth boxing program to tackle the city's gun violence crisis

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- South Philly native Maleek Jackson has been motivated to help change the violent trends of youth gun violence in Philadelphia.

After spending a decade behind bars and losing three brothers to gun violence, Jackson's determination has led him to direct inner-city children into the boxing ring.

"Prison is where I really set myself down and figured out what I really wanted to do with my life," said Jackson.

The 34-year-old is the owner of Maleek Jackson Fitness Boxing Gym in the city's Northern Liberties section.

Their mission is to bring passion and energy to everyone inside and provide a community-friendly environment that allows members of all ages a place to train and work out.

Jackson and his team decided to launch a free boxing program during the gym's 4 p.m. hour Monday through Saturday called the "Azzim Dukes Youth Program," named after his brother. The program aims to reach inner-city kids from single-parent homes or with incarcerated parents to teach them the life principles of boxing.

"As far as the Azzim Dukes program, it's named after my little brother who lost his life at 17. He got murdered in the streets of South Philadelphia," said Jackson. "It's something that I always wanted to do. It wasn't until I recently attended a Janazah (Islamic funeral) of a young kid who was 21."

Jackson adds the 21-year-old was a former trainee who attended a program at his former gym's location.

In an attempt to redirect the actions of his former trainee, Maleek says that is when he discovered the worst news from a post on social media.

"I get on social media one day last week, and I see his obituary. It's those realities when you're in a position to help or to better a community, I think you should do it," he said.

Jackson believes through the discipline that boxing teaches, the program can be a huge life adjustment for youth growing up surrounded by environmental peer pressure.

"The main thing that boxing does for anybody, is it allows you to not be controlled by your ego," said Jackson. "And when you learn to control your ego, a lot of the stuff that's happening in the inner-cities of Philly, all the violence, all the shootings, all that is tied into a person's ego."

Jackson says that boxing cleans up a person's character and addresses all the social ills that youth faces daily. His overall hope for the program is redirection.

"What we hope that will come out of this program is that kids will be redirected in the way that they think, the way that they use their energy, and the way that they applicate their time," he added.
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