Derek Brown is a former gang member and current founder and director of the North Lawndale Boxing League – Boxing Out Negativity, a boxing and mentoring program that seeks to protect eight- to sixteen-year-old youths from gang violence in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. Every week, Brown conducts two to three sessions combining boxing lessons and motivational and problem-solving discussions. Enrollment in the program is free, though students must pay by completing school homework and following other rules. Brown has a waiting list of seventy students and spends about twenty percent of his annual salary to keep the program funded. We spoke for almost thirty minutes about Brown’s background, his approach to training and mentoring, and the outcomes for kids in his program. Due to the length of our conversation, you can read the first half of our interview in a previous post and the second half below.
Greg: How did you learn to box?
Derek: When I was eight years old, a guy by the name of Tate asked me did I want to learn how to box, and I said yeah. And he started training me, just out the blue. And I had a discipline and I followed him. And he used to chase me every day and train me to box and one day, he just disappeared and left. I never seen him again. But as an eight-year-old kid coming through the streets of Chicago with that little boxing experience, one thing I have learned, it never left me, what he put inside me.
And as I was going through the streets, I was able to defend myself and I was known as a knockout artist and I was knocking people out. So that’s one thing that got me up in the ranks quick. Because I could fight. I was one of the fighters. I got out the joint at the age of eighteen. By that time, I was known as a heavy hitter, and everybody kept saying “You should box, you should box.” So I joined a gym called Windy City Boxing Club and I was good. The thing is, I just wouldn’t stay out of the streets.
Greg: How do the kids you coach find out about your program?
Derek: I’m from North Lawndale. My nickname was Shotgun. I ran the streets. I was known for carrying all types of guns. I sold drugs on almost every corner in North Lawndale. So my name is out there. Everybody knows who I am. Their parents still talk about me, their grandparents talk about me. Most of the time, at the beginning, everybody wanted to be around Shotgun. The key was to get them to me. But once they get into my program, they learn all about Derek. They don’t want to become Shotgun. So it’s just word of mouth. My program is like number one right now in the community, even though I don’t have enough space to roam right now. But I have a huge waiting list. Basically, half is who I am and half is word of mouth.
Greg: After a kid attends one of your lessons for the first time, how likely is it that he’ll come back for a second lesson?
Derek: For some strange odd reason, I’m the hardest guy probably they’ll ever meet in life. But at the same time, they always come back. Like right now, I have a waiting list. When parents want to register their children, I tell them to just get on our waiting list. Versus, I see another little child that needs the program and he comes and asks me, I don’t turn him down. The reason I turn the parent down is because the parent has the support system where they can at least wait for the child or they can keep trying to support him. Versus this child who just came to me on his own that’s out in the wilderness with nowhere to go, with no guidance, I just accept him. And at the same time, they always come back for something. So I’m not going to say no to them.
Hard as I am, how I push them—I push them to their limits—and they just keep going and going and going. I beat them up by working them. And we probably spar once every three months. But you know, I do more with discipline, I do more conditioning. I believe discipline and conditioning, with the fundamentals of boxing, can take you very far.
There’s two good teams right now in the city of Chicago when we do our tournaments. There’s a park that’s called Taylor Park, where Floyd Mayweather and Nate Jones, all of the pros, train these kids, and there’s my team, North Lawndale. And it’s an honor to be able to compete with these guys because look where we come from. We don’t have half the equipment these guys do. My kids train out of my basement, we train outside of my home, and we’re there to compete. If we do get a facility, we’ll be second to none.
Greg: So you do have scheduled fights, whether with other boxing clubs or within your own organization.
Derek: Yeah. Right now, I’ve got known and put a stamp into the Chicago Park District, so the Chicago Park District lets me put my youth into their tournaments as long as we register with the Park District. So the Park District has about sixty teams in the city of Chicago, and again, we always win. There hasn’t been a tournament where we haven’t went and we didn’t win. We’re probably winning five fights out of six.
Greg: So once a kid joins your program, how long does he stick with it? Months? Years?
Derek: Years. Since I first started in 2009, 2010. I had a student named Ariana Washington and I’ve been training her since she was a kid, and she just went to college. I had another kid named Tyrell Kirk that’s in college. Malik Coleman just went to college. I have another kid I’ve been training since he was a kid, Anthony Swanson, he’s about to graduate from high school. He might go to the military. I’ve got two kids, Quinn James and Quan James, they just went to the Navy. I’m designing my program so it’s a full circle and I plan to have these youth for life because they can always come back and give back. Now it’s just starting the cycle because a lot of the older kids come through and they help me a little bit right now.
Greg: And I understand you have some specific rules your kids have to follow.
Derek: Oh yes, yes, definitely. Rule number one: I don’t charge no parent, but the students have to pay, and they have to pay with homework. So that’s what they pay, is homework. No homework, no training. Homework is money, knowledge is the key to success.
“How can we help the community? What are some of the things that we don’t like in the community that we have the power to change?”
Greg: Anything else?
Derek: Just to respect the others. Clean up behind yourselves. You have to have self-respect. You have to love yourself. And be a part of my talking circles, my peace circles. You know, some days we sit down and don’t train; we have to talk. And we talk about subjects and things that goes on in the community. How can we help the community? What are some of the things that we don’t like in the community that we have the power to change?
Greg: You said you have a waiting list for students. Are you looking to expand the reach of your program?
Derek: Oh definitely. I want to expand. To expand would be greater and better. So I’m always willing to expand. I definitely want to make the program where I can actually get paid by doing it. Right now, all the proceeds, 100% of the proceeds, are coming up out of my pocket. So I definitely want to change things.
Greg: And how can other people help out? What do you need from other people in the community?
Derek: Basically just support. Support, stay posted, and anything as far as helping us move forward. Any help. The only help that we don’t want is bad help. And like I tell kids, sometimes no help is better than bad help. We use used equipment. We use new equipment. Anything that’s just going to help us grow. We’re not turning no support down.
Greg: So monetary donations, used equipment, new equipment?
Greg: And how can people keep up with what you’re doing?
Derek: Our Facebook page and the website. I have a lot of events that’s coming up in the summer that’s involving the community. We’re doing a “Pick Up the Gloves and Put Down the Guns” event, and we are going to take my ring and do block club parties on high-risk blocks where guys are doing the most shooting. I have four blocks that’s participating so far. Me and a couple guys from the community sat down with some gang members and asked them would they stop shooting and train one of their fighters to fight in the ring and pick a champion for your block. And hopefully, we’ll do a block trophy or block belt for someone to put it on display and say “We got the tough man.”
Greg: Well thank you very much, mostly for the work you’re doing in our community, but also for your time with this interview.
Derek: Thanks for taking your time. We want to get this message out so people can see that there’s good people and we also want to change the role models that takes place in the world. Because the role models they’re looking up to aren’t that diverse: drug dealers, gangbangers and all these other things. So we just want to post these positive messages out so that our people can look up to positive people with positive influence.
Follow the North Lawndale Boxing League on Facebook to stay up to date with Derek Brown and his organization. Visit northlawndaleboxingleague.org for more information or to make an equipment or monetary donation. For more from Brown and his organization, read the first half of our interview.