Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Serving Her Country: Jelicia Allen

We caught up with one of Atlas Cops and Kids' most successful grads, Jelicia Allen, from her post in Virginia, where she is attached to the USS George Washington, four years into her five-year contract with the Navy. 

What inspired you to join the Navy?

What inspired me to join the Navy was the environment that I grew up in. I was born and raised in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and I knew that I wanted change and to do something different that separated me from my peers, so I thought joining the military will help me do that, and it did. 

How did Cops and Kids help you achieve your goal?
Cops and Kids helped me achieve my goal by helping me everyday mentally and physically. I had a goal to drop weight. Coach Quiro, Coach Maria, and Coach Sarah helped me to do so. Going to the gym helped me to stay focused. I was tutoring everyday for the ASVAB, going over math because that was my weakness. Mentally, the gym helped because I had lost a lot of belongings at a time during Hurricane Sandy. Cops and Kids helped me mentally to keep pushing forward despite the storm (literally). Finally, when I lost my mother suddenly right before leaving for boot camp, Cops and Kids definitely helped me then also with encouraging words, extending arms, and just simply showing up to my mother's funeral. 

What was boot camp like?

Boot camp was different. I wasn’t expecting it to mentally push me the way it did. I went in with a “New York attitude,” thinking it wouldn’t phase me, but slowly and surely I found out real quick. My RDC’s were very strict and didn’t play. It definitely opened my eyes and pushed me to the limit, facing different scenarios that never in a million years I thought I could face.

What have you learned from your travels?

I've learned about the world from my travels, the different cultures and the different people in each country, how they differ from the States. I went to England, Bahrain, Dubai, Singapore, and Hawaii. It was a great experience.

Tell us about the work you do. What is your favorite and least favorite part of your job?

My job in the Navy is an aviation ordnanceman. We deal with assembling and disassembling bombs. My favorite thing about it is that it’s cool, tough, and the AO community is deep. It’s a lot of us: one big family. The least favorite part of my job is not being able to say what I really want to say at times, holding your tongue when something frustrates you, and also dealing with different types of leadership.

Shortly after you enlisted, your mother passed away suddenly. How were you able to deal with this loss and still stay focused on your goals?

Sometimes I don’t even know how I even dealt with a situation so difficult. I still amaze myself to this day. I took it real hard. I became angry, sad, and distant with everyone. I prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed and asked God to guide me. I just thought of all the things my mother told me and how she raised me and the advice she instilled in me. I used it to fuel me each and every day without her. I had to wise up and do what was right and be there for my little sister to help the both of us. I also had people that I met in the military that I became real close with, and they too helped my journey to stay focused.

What advice do you have for other young people considering joining the armed forces?

I would say to do a lot of research, and if it’s something you really want to do, you have to push forward and actually put your mind to it. STAY FOCUSED. NO DISTRACTIONS AND NO NEGATIVITY. Remember why you're doing it to begin with and let it stick with you always.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers?

I would like to tell the readers that no matter what circumstance you may face, there’s a reason for everything. You might not see it now, but you have to keep pressing. Always remember: Struggle builds character, and never forget where you came from. Stay blessed.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Amadou's College Application Essay

The community I've been living in since I was two years old isn’t the best. A lot of people in my community have this “If you live in the hood, you're going to die in the hood” mentality. A lot of crimes and gun violence happen daily. Being a witness and victim of these traumatic experiences motivates me to get out of my neighborhood and be someone that both of my younger siblings look up to. 

When I was twelve, I was walking to the recreational center to watch my friend’s basketball game, when, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed two older men having a huge commotion at the end of the block. They were arguing about a bet, because one guy owed the other money. The argument was so bad that you could see both men's facial expressions changing dramatically, veins popping at the top of their foreheads, voices so loud they had the whole neighborhood’s attention. 

The next thing I knew, one of the guys pulled a sharp object out of his jacket pocket and stabbed the other guy in the ribs in broad daylight! The man rushed out of the crime scene, never to be seen again. After witnessing that moment, my body was so petrified my mind wasn't thinking straight. The man was on the concrete covered in blood, mouthing, “Help me,” while everybody just walked by, ignoring him. 

After witnessing something so traumatic, I was motivated to start doing something in my life and start focusing more on school. Around that time, my first sibling was born, leading me to strive even harder. I didn't want my brother witnessing something like I had at a very young age. 

My first year of high school was very challenging. I lost track of my goals and started hanging out with the neighborhood kids, getting into fights with rival gang members. I was failing a lot of my classes and even went to summer school. All this changed during my sophomore year of high school. I had to take my grades more seriously, because I was in jeopardy of not even having enough credits to graduate. A lot was expected from me and from my siblings. I come from a very religious Muslim household, and my mother knew I was better than this. I didn't want to be another African-American teenage dropout. 

Like the great Malcolm X once said, Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today. This relates to me because I am already preparing for my future. I am taking AP Computer Science classes and a Computer Science internship to prepare me to work in the technology field. I am also taking boxing for self-defense and to keep me out of the kind of trouble from the streets that I witnessed when I was twelve years old. 

Coding and boxing have improved me mentally and physically. I have finally found things that I have a passion for. Coding is challenging when we are learning about Javascript and algorithms, and boxing is challenging when I am sparring with someone more experienced than me. Two or three years ago, I would never have expected to have a fondness for these activities. 

As I am now currently at the last year of high school, a lot has changed for me. These past four years, I have grown into a young, educated African American man. Just because you live in the streets doesn't mean you have to live there forever! People have to get that misconception out of their heads. All human beings have a lot of potential that they can realize just by hard work and dedication to something that they really love. These traumatic experiences did have a positive impact on me because they shaped me into who I am today: a champion. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Atlas Cops and Kids Boxers in Hollywood, on Broadway, and in Wooster Group Summer Institute

To be a great boxer, you have to be an entertainer. Atlas Cops and Kids connects youth with diverse opportunities for advancement, including film, television, theater, and music.

Christopher "Lil Bhopp" Colbert, Jr., undefeated pro featherweight, poses on the red carpet at the L.A. Film Festival. Bhopp stars in Jay Bulger's new Netflix documentary "Counterpunch," which also features trainer Aureliano Sosa, and the hip hop of Julian Sosa.

Bhopp is now in rehearsal for a role in Equalizer 2, starring Denzel Washington.

Park Hill boxer Justice Barrios (right) poses with instructor Christopher Stevenson and award-winning actor Kate Valk at the Wooster Group Summer Institute, a free summer theater program co-founded by Valk and Ariana Scott Truman.

Kids in the Summer Institute encounter a text and study a physical discipline – this summer it was the film "Rebel Without a Cause" and swing dancing – and then work together to develop and perform an ensemble piece in the experimental tradition of the Wooster Group.

"We are exposing the kids to process," explains Truman. "How do you work together and not be worried about risks, not be afraid of failure, throw yourself wholeheartedly into experimentation?"

"Justice is a magical kid. So gracious and mature. Even though boxing is a solitary sport, it's instilled him with a sense of community."

Flatbush Gardens boxer Muhammed Deen just returned from a life-changing summer exchange program in New Zealand. Deen always wins Atlas Cops and Kids' $50 prize for his academic averages and was nominated for the prestigious Posse Foundation Scholarship. This spring, he performed his spoken word on Broadway before a sold-out performance of the blockbuster "Hamilton."

Monday, May 1, 2017

Overcoming Failure

Thanks to boxer/scholar Ethan Munoz for this excellent essay, which won him scholarship money for college.

Overcoming Failure

“And your winner by split decision is…..coming out of the blue corner!” 

I stood in the ring, in front of an audience of around 75 people, my red tank top drenched in sweat, my head bowed in disappointment, and my body slouched from exhaustion. The words pierced through me like a sword. I had lost. But how? I’d been running, sparring, and spending countless hours in the gym. I threw a million punches, and in the last round I dished out a right hand so hard that the referee gave my opponent a standing eight count. But somehow, I lost. After receiving a mediocre bronze medal, I made my way to the locker room where my twin brother rushed in after me and stared at me for a few seconds. We both balled up in tears. Despite the fact that I was the one who actually fought, the pain was mutual. It was my first fight, and I lost.

The pain from losing wore off right away. After all, it's all just a learning experience, right? Plus it was only my first fight, in which I actually did exceptionally well, considering it was my opponent’s twelfth bout. In fact, several spectators from the audience told me that they believed that I should have won. My father told me not to worry because you can’t win all the time. Losing that fight gave me a surge of motivation that caused me to work even harder. 

I lived in the gym after that fight. Every single day I spent at least two hours working hard, sweating to the point that I could barely keep my eyes open because the blinding sweat would trickle into my eyes. I ran like a horse in the park at least three miles every other day. I hated running in the winter, because the thin air made me feel like an elephant was sitting down on my chest every time I breathed. However, I had to keep my speed up or I would freeze. I sparred several rounds a week, and sometimes I would leave the ring with a bloody nose, a bruised limb or a scratched-up back. My body was crying. I had heard about stabbings and rapes that occurred in the park I ran in, and my family members warned me to be careful because strange people roam the park at night. However, I still continued to run in the park daily with nothing but one thing on my mind: victory. After about two weeks, I walked into the gym and my trainer shocked me with a last minute offer, “Hey Ethan, do you want to fight this Friday!?”

My heart sank to the bottom of my stomach. Was I ready to fight again... Already? On such short notice?

“Yes!” I excitedly agreed. 

Before I knew it, it was Friday night and I was in the ring once again. The bell rang, and the war began. This time I threw what felt like a billion punches, and I rushed my opponent like a football player. I can’t remember what my opponent did, but it was clearly ineffective. The adrenaline was speeding through my veins like cars on a highway. After the fight was finally over, I hugged my opponent out of respect and bowed my head while standing in the middle of the ring. Than I heard it:

“Your winner is…coming out of the red corner from Atlas Cops and Kids Boxing Gym!”

The referee raised my hand as I leaped for joy. I had failed in my first fight because I wasn’t working hard enough. Through this, I realized that victory comes only through diligence.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Never Be Mine by Maverick Deen

This is the first rap song from boxer Muhammad Deen, 17, a student at Victory Collegiate High School. We think Deen has a bright future, whether he chooses to pursue fighting, writing, or music!

Deen writes:

During the course of life, some discover the key to unlock their talent. This talent isn't specific to a skill. Rather, it's a natural part of your personality that allows you to excel at certain things.

I, Muhammad Deen, had a talent for poetry, so it was evident that rap (rhythm and poetry) and boxing, often referred as "poetry in motion," would be my love in life. Talent for poetry isn't just about writing; it's about seeing the poetic elements in everything in life.

Being Pakistani with Indian roots, my cultural music was an integral part of me. Growing up, I listened to various Pakistani and Indian artists, while my western musical influences included Eminem, David Bowie, Billy Joel, Nirvana, Nas, Tupac, Immortal Technique, Prince and Linkin Park.

Seeing every genre as a different color, allowing my words to be different brushes, I made my first song, "Never Be Mine," about unrequited love. I incorporated hip hop, rock and blues with a live instrumentation.

Photo: Richard Wade
With boxing, the canvas parallel exists, with different punches, feints, angles and other things creating a painting. Boxing is misconstrued to be a violent and barbaric sport. However, it is only a reflection of who we are. The decisions you make during a fight show how you react in life. With poetry being in my soul, of course the love for music and boxing is in me too.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Slavery to the American Dream

Our condolences to beautiful Aaliyah and family on the loss of her mother.

Here's a great college paper Aaliyah worked on in our tutoring center:

In this paper I will discuss John Locke’s views on government and society and how they connect with two major problems in the U.S today: our slavery to the American Dream and the hypocrisy of our law makers. Even though Locke was writing in the 17th century, his ideas about society and government can help us with the things that we still struggle with today.

In chapter four, "Of Slavery" Locke says,”The liberty of man, in society, is to be under no other legislative power; but that established, by consent, in the commonwealth; not under the dominion of any will, or restraint of any law, but what that legislative shall enact, according to the trust put in it.” This means that the laws made must be agreed upon by everyone, and we shouldn’t have to follow any other people’s rules.

Once I read this part of the chapter, the first thing that popped into my mind was the American Dream, which is a rule that was made up and that we all did not agree upon. The American Dream is an unrealistic hope of what life your life should look like. For example, that every American family should have a Mom, a Dad who works a high-paying office job, two kids – one boy and one girl – and a big house with a white picket fence and a dog. This is a very hard goal to achieve due to the fact that life has different plans for everyone and certain things happen, like death, that don't allow the American Dream family to be possible.

 The American Dream separates us into two groups, the haves and the have nots. If you are able to obtain the Dream, you are a part of the haves, and if you cannot achieve the Dream, you are a part of the have nots. This allows the haves to feel superior and leaves the have nots feeling inferior. It's a modern way of slavery without the chains and the constant beating.

The government puts out this idea of what the perfect family and life should be so we can work for unobtainable goals to keep us busy enough that we won't be able to see the major issues we face. This allows the government to keep us as slaves without us even noticing. It keeps us doing what they want us to do, which keeps many of us from being truly happy. This isn’t the kind of law that we should follow under Locke’s definition of what the liberty of a man is.

In chapter seven, "Of Political or Civil Society,” Locke describes the difference between slaves and servants. John Locke says about servants, "For a free man makes himself a servant to another, by selling him, for a certain time, the service he undertakes to do, in exchanges for wages he is to receive.” But slaves are people who, “are by the right of nature subjected to the absolute dominion and arbitrary power of their master.” I feel that working for low wages is equal to being a slave.

Some people might say, "What's wrong with someone working and getting paid for the job he or she has done?” The problem is that many people work and don't get paid the right or fair amount of money.

A McDonald’s cashier makes 8 dollars an hour. Some people might not see it as a problem because the cashiers didn’t go to school. However, in America it is impossible to live on 8 dollars an hour. Many of these workers have children, which means they have to rely on sources of public assistance, a form of government help to get by. This is a form of slavery and oppression, because someone working for this amount of money cannot support their family without help, help that can be taken away or changed without warning. This is an example of being under the “arbitrary power of a master.” 

Another thing about this help is that, most of the time, it isn't even enough to really help the person. This is also a way of keeping the have nots from being able to move up the social ladder. If someone with a family working for 8 dollars an hour wants to make more money, they would have to go to school, which would be impossible because of the hours they work. This is just one of the many ways the government keeps the masters as masters and the slaves as slaves.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Television Will Not Be Revolutionized

Thanks to boxer Athol Dempster, soon to graduate from Baruch, for sharing this excellent paper with us. It's a close reading of a poem blogged by rapper Lupe Fiasco a day after the death of Gil Scot Heron.

Athol Dempster
English 3201

“R.I.P. Gil-Scott Heron” by Lupe Fiasco is a tribute poem to famous artist, poet and author Gil-Scott Heron. The lines and stanzas are a play on or allusion to Heron’s classic piece “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” Fiasco further memorializes Heron’s work by writing this poem in a similar style, with a similar message, in homage to such an iconic individual. The poem begins with the lines “Idiot boxes of the world unite! To fight off the effects of intelligence, replace smart quotes with fart jokes, substitute sense with scenes from Martin, let the baby's bathe in that glow and learn all manner of things they don't really need to know!” These lines are very impactful and they speak to the changes happening in television and the adverse effects this is having on young minds. Fiasco reiterates the central theme that the revolution will not be televised because television will not be revolutionized. He does so in order to awaken the minds clouded by media and commercialism. The poem uses repetition as one of its main stylistic choices to highlight the message. It continues to state “The Television Will Not Be Revolutionized!” meaning nothing is going to change on T.V.  

In the poem, he advances this idea when he states “by this one-eyed monster most of the world was raised and by this hero most of the world was saved, and to this master most of the world is slaves, it factors your fears with actors and cheers from a live studio audience pushing you to engage in a heroic act of thoughtlessness for the grand prize of a little bread, fleeting fame in the circus and every thought in yo head.” This line speaks to the idea that television is raising society’s children. What is portrayed on television is being accepted as the norms, or reality. For example, the negative stigma of African Americans on reality programming is what is becoming the role model to young children who watch it. Upon closer analysis, one may notice, on television, that the black male commonly gets typecast as the aggressor who fails to make contributions to society. As a result of this stigma, the only time the media ever really has a conversation centered on a black male, it is negative. For example, when rapper Kanye West says or does something ridiculous; Ray Rice or another professional athlete has drug, weapon, or domestic abuse charge; or a local black male is murdered or commits some type of crime.

The poem has no structured rhyme scheme. However, the stanza breaks help add to the rhythm and develop the serious tone of the poem. Fiasco uses several examples of figurative language that add depth to his poem. Fiasco uses personification when he writes “'ain't no changing me' said my flat screen TV." Giving the television the ability to speak further perpetuates the idea that television, in its current state, is fixed and will not change. Meaning the types of shows, branding, and consumerist brainwash will continue. Fiasco believes that this is society’s demise, because he states “so there will be no revolution or paradoxically ironic televised public execution of the entire worldwide televising institution."

The entire poem makes references to popular culture throughout. For example, in the third stanza he says “Small claims Court drama, teenage baby mamas, Osama watching Osama, Celebrity Endorsed indoor saunas.” This quote in many ways is true because our society has become so media dependent. If you really take time to reflect, you may notice more people know what is going on with celebrities than with individuals within their own community. I am embarrassed but honest with myself when I say I’m more up to date of the goings on in the lives of characters on “Love and Hip Hop” than I am about the current battle regarding immigration or the presidential debates. Even though both are exposed through the media, like many others, I naturally gravitate to things that I find more entertaining. So I am consciously making the decision to watch people portray themselves, in many instances, as classless, undereducated, materialistic members of society. As a result, I’ve noticed, unfortunately, how much these shows inform and educate the masses about American society.

Fiasco uses his talent as a rapper to create in the reader a sense of awareness that is a powerful weapon in the battle with media. The poem enables the reader to understand that the world will continue to be uniformed unless we take heed to his words. Fiasco’s use of the elements of repetition, structure, personification and symbolism are what make this an incredible poetic piece. This poem is a protest against the ongoing assault on young minds on a daily basis. So many of today’s youth are imprisoned by technology, and unless something is done to stop this, it will only get worse. Lupe Fiasco ends with “cuz you see my dear friends the television will not be revolutionized but what about the revolution that should taking place inside of you?” This line is a cry for social awareness. He wants readers to resonate with the idea that media should not be in control and that we have to make an individual, conscious effort to not fall into its trap. The idea that we are hypnotized by the “idiot box” has to end by us deprogramming ourselves, re-evaluating who we are, and gaining a more conscious state of mind.