In December, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh launched her multi-agency initiative to reduce violence in the city. The city’s Department of Recreation and Parks responded by extending their hours and expanding their programs to keep kids off the streets.
WYPR went to Upton Boxing to check out the new programs for another installment in our series “As They Grow: Tracking changes for the next generation.”
One floor of the Upton Boxing Center on Pennsylvania Avenue is newly lined floor to ceiling with blue mats with four large, yellow circles on the floor. The room is ready for its first wrestling classes ever.
Friends, Kennard Daney, 9, and Kashif Hampton, 10, are warming up with their class.
“When I was coming to the sport, I really didn’t know anything," says Kashif. "I was just a kid eager to have fun. And a kid just eager to have some rules in my life.”
Kashif has been wrestling for three years with the non-profit program, Beat the Streets, which has partnered with the rec department. Kashif says the sport has given him more discipline.
“See I used to fight at my old school," says Kashif.
After switching schools and joining the wrestling program, Kashif says he got himself together.
“No more fights and yeah, I just got to wrestling and yeah I heard this program was opening up," says Kashif.
Kashif and Kennard are two of nine kids who have joined Upton’s wrestling program thanks to the mayor’s violence reduction plan and a grant from the city department of housing for $31,000.
“We also have initiatives where we go to the different recreation centers and school systems and do demonstrations of the program to get people to sign up for it," says Rashaan Brave, head of youth and adult sports with the department.
Brave says the grant is allowing kids who sign up now participate for free the first year. In subsequent years there will be a $75 fee that can be paid off in small installments.
“I’m a strong believer that if you give people constructive activities that some of their problems, issues concerns, with everyday life is more manageable," says Brave. "They can deal with it better because they have an outlet.”
Reginald Moore, director of the department, raved about the new wrestling program at the mayor’s multiagency violence reduction update meeting.
“Another exciting piece at Upton is that we’re getting ready to roll out our wrestling program which is another form of sport that teaches discipline," says Moore.
Mayor Pugh said her plan is to the combined holistic efforts of every agency.
“It really is about putting people at the table across from each other and being more proactive than reactive," says Pugh.
Governor Larry Hogan has criticized the mayor’s violence reduction for not “immediately taking criminals off the streets.” But Pugh pushed back, pointing to statistics that show a reduction of violent crime in the five areas her plan targeted, including Upton.
“If you look at the data, I think you can fairly say that—so far—that it is working," says Pugh.
In the month of November, there was a weekly 33 percent reduction in homicide and a 15 percent reduction of crime in the city overall. It’s unclear yet if the extended hours and programs like wrestling are assisting with the reduction of violence, but Pugh says "we are trending in the right direction."
Back in Upton, Kashif and Kennard have started grappling practice. Kashif says he has one goal in mind for the future.
“I would just take my dad’s job which is tinting cars and then once the winter Olympics come up just wrestle," says Kashif.
The Olympics. Given his age, that would probably be the 2028 games in Los Angeles. Watch for him.