As executive director of the Grand Rapids Youth Boxing Foundation, Carl Kelly uses boxing to teach leadership and life principles to underprivileged kids. A retired schoolteacher, Kelly now spends his time directing the MLK Boxing and Mentoring Program, influencing the lives of many Grand Rapids young people.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Carl Kelly, Executive Director of the Grand Rapids Youth Boxing Foundation:
Being a leader, to me, is making sure that you are providing all of the tools necessary for growth in whomever you’re leading. Your goal is not to teach anybody how to live or anything like that, but to make sure they have the tools and support in place so they can figure out what success means to them, and then to achieve it. I think the mark of a really good leader is someone who provides the tools of success to those they are leading.
What is your dream for kids?
My dream for my kids is that they will be contributing members to their society. That they will take the responsibility of helping others seriously and that they will take on the responsibility of being good role models for those around them. I want to create leaders in our kids, so that they can go into the community with a good set of principles and become role models for those around them.
?I want to create leaders in our kids, so that they can go into the community with a good set of principles and become role models for those around them.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
I think a primary goal should be the education of young kids. Very young. Before preschool, even. I think we should focus a lot of our attention on early childhood development … I think there should be programs that would help parents to become better educators for children from one to five, before they ever enter the public school system. If you can get to the children at the very earliest ages and teach them some basic skills – both social and academic – it would send children into the public school system prepared to learn.
How do you know you’re making progress?
I know because it’s in the attitude of the students. After a year or two, we’ll take a look at how the kids have benefitted or not benefitted from the program. Almost 100 percent of the kids leave [the MLK Boxing and Mentoring Program] with a better attitude, better manners, and a better decorum in how they talk to and approach others. It really improves communication at a very basic level, and that’s what I hang my hat on.
Almost 100 percent of the kids leave [the MLK Boxing and Mentoring Program] with a better attitude, better manners, and a better decorum in how they talk to and approach others. It really improves communication at a very basic level, and that’s what I hang my hat on.
What are you most proud of?
It takes a tremendous amount of effort to get into boxing shape. I look at these kids I’ve worked with, and how they can transfer that kind of dedication into every other aspect of their lives. They can transfer the program to their education, to their home life, and to their community life … it makes them better citizens, let’s put it that way.
Do you see this happening with your kids?
Absolutely! Our champion boxers and our mentors become role models for all the kids around them. In the program there’s a lot of interaction and pure mentoring going on. Not just the adults, but the older kids and the more successful kids who made great strides in school – they are the examples for the younger students.
As a leader, what would you recommend to someone looking to make a difference in his or her community?
I would say, start out by finding organizations that are active in areas that interest you – whether it’s working with the homeless, battered women, or battered children. Seek out volunteer opportunities to get involved in what’s most important to you. You’ll be able to see how well you can function in those environments. If a person gets into something like that as a volunteer and really enjoys it, really feels like they’re making a difference – then they can decide what areas they would like to focus on. There are a lot of areas in the non-profit world that need our help. Use that as a way of discovering what your niche is.