Community. Discipline. Confidence. Athleticism.
These are just a few of the benefits of LeftHookNYC, a brand-new, free program on a mission to bring the benefits of boxing to underserved youth, particularly teens in Bushwick public housing.
LeftHookNYC, which launched in October, operates twice a week out of New York City Housing Authority’s Hope Gardens Community Center in Bushwick and is expanding to serve 100 students in Bushwick and Brownsville within the year.
The program, which currently has 15 students, operates on a five-week cycle. In two weeks, the first cohort will celebrate their mastery of non-sparring boxing and self-defense and begin to help train the incoming group of learners.
In addition to the self-defense and athletic skills taught in the program, LeftHookNYC founder and Bushwick resident Ramon Pebenito said that the program provided a crucial outlet for students to safely express themselves and feel supported.
“There are so few remaining free after-school programs now, so we have a lot of young people with pent-up energy and they don’t have sufficient emotional and educational resources,” Pebenito said.
“For many, this is the closest thing they have to a form of therapy.”
There are 1,722 public schools in New York City, and about 900 free, after-school programs for Kindergarten to 12th-grade learners, according to the Department of Education.
“The end goal is improving their confidence and teaching them the role of teamwork,” Pebenito said. “Not enough people are doing it, due to the terrible budget situation.”
Pebenito created this holistic curriculum to be about more than just boxing. In the group, he guides discussions around safety and disrupting bullying and toxic masculinity. Next week, the head of Head Trauma at Woodhull Hospital is talking to the group about the importance of wearing helmets.
Pebenito, who’s lived in Bushwick for 7 years, is a community organizer and is also a nominee for the board of directors at the Bushwick Food Cooperative, and has worked as the director of community organizing for State Senator Julia Salazar.
He said the outbreak of gang violence this year in the city is a symptom of a severe lack of free youth programming and said a boxing program can help disrupt youth crime by teaching kids self-defense and giving them a safe, positive and engaging after-school activity.
“The police are super overfunded, and the free youth programming is super underfunded, especially in Black, Brown and Asian neighborhoods,” Pebenito said. “There’s a devastating correlation there.”
Pebenito is currently fundraising with a goal of $25,000 to expand to serve 100 students and ensure each one gets gifted $250 worth of pro-level boxing gear — Olympic-quality gloves, protective wrist wraps, towels, a thermos and a cool, teen-approved gym bag.
“You may think, ‘okay well why can’t you just give them some discount stuff,’ but I want to say something about that — these kids are always used to discount, second-hand stuff. I want them to feel f—king cool,” Pebenito said. “I want them to feel their worth.”
Pebenito trains the teens along with coaches of all genders and emphasized that this is a gender-inclusive program.
LeftHookNYC has been supported by many small contributions from local organizations and leaders, including Woodhull Hospital, Chairperson of Brooklyn Community Board 4 Robert Camacho and State Assemblymember Maritza Davila.
Pebenito said his former boss Salazar might even stop by the end-of-session celebration — she has her own boxing gloves.
“I’m so proud of my students because they’ve developed at a rate faster than I thought possible,” Pebenito said. “They could kick my butt. I love seeing them challenge themselves and support each other.”
LeftHookNYC’s classes are available to all NYCHA Hope Gardens Community Center members, and the program is expanding to NYCHA community centers in other parts of the city soon. Donate to the fundraiser here.