Boxing gym in one of Philly’s roughest neighborhoods seeks public’s help after fire
Pivott Boxing Academy is used to lending a helping hand. Based in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Kensington, which was described by The Philadelphia Inquirer as “the poorest neighborhood in America’s poorest big city,” the gym provides boxing instruction to children and adults of all ages.
With few youth sports programs available, police officers and school principals have delivered troubled kids to Pivott to give them a healthy outlet and a road to reform.
“It’s a safe haven for them. We always tell the kids, if you get in trouble out there, just come over here,” said Lando Rosa, whose gym has nearly 200 kids enrolled, and has produced hundreds of amateur boxers since opening four years ago.
Usually it’s Pivott Boxing that is giving out backpacks, haircuts, or canned goods for the neighborhood kids.
Now it’s Pivott Boxing that is in need of help.
The gym has been closed since January 1 after an early morning fire that began at the auto repair shop downstairs tore through the building. There was no structural damage to the building, but smoke blanketed the entirety of the second floor training facility. All 21 windows in the gym were smashed, and water from the fire hoses destroyed the heavy bags and the 50 new pairs of gloves that Rosa had bought for the kids.
A GoFundMe page was created on Jan. 11 by one of the many parents who sends their children to the gym. The page has requested donations for the bare minimum to re-open, including a ring cover, 25 boxing gloves and two exercise bikes, plus paint, rollers and cleaning supplies, but only four donations totaling $320 have been made in the past month.
Rosa estimates that it’d take about two weeks of work to get the gym back operational, but he’s still waiting on the landlord’s insurance company to give them the green light to begin making repairs. He’s hoping that approval will come by the end of February. In the meantime, utility bills continue to come in.
With the gym closed, Rosa has had to be resourceful to keep his boxers on track. He has been training some of his boxers at Rock Ministries, a church in the middle of Kensington Ave. that incorporates boxing into its preaching work, but the gym is only open after 7 p.m., which means the youngest students who have school in the morning aren’t able to train. To keep them engaged, Rosa has resorted to hosting boxing classes over Zoom.
“If they lose the interest, we will lose them. And I’m tired of going to funerals. I’m tired of seeing mothers crying,” said Rosa.
Under the best times, the gym thrives on a mixture of inspiration and aspiration. A youngster picking up the sport can train alongside a number of rising professionals, including Atif Oberlton (8-0, 6 knockouts), the 24-year-old light heavyweight prospect who recently defeated Artem Brusov on ShoBox, or Alejandro Jimenez (5-0-1, 1 KO) or Jesus Soler (11-2-1, 5 KOs).
Still, the realities of Kensington are never far away. One of the gym’s pros, Eric Monroe, was gunned down last May on Kensington Ave.
If there’s anyone who understands the saving grace of boxing, it’s Rosa. Born in New York, Rosa moved to the Kensington neighborhood at age 12. He joined a gang and fell into a pattern of crime before stepping into a gym.
“Boxing saved my life,” said Rosa, who trained under Philly legend Sam Hickman, followed by Sharron Baker, a Hickman protege who now trains out of Pivott.
The area remains as desperate for positive influences as ever. An “opioid emergency” was declared in Kensington in 2018, and the violent crime rate is approximately 30 percent higher there than in the rest of the city, according to a 2019 Drexel University community profile.
Rosa hopes that monetary or equipment donations can help get the Pivott doors back open as soon as possible.
“It’s like a war zone. If you drive down Kensington Ave., you’ll see hundreds and hundreds of heroin addicts on the side walk. These kids have to walk over these people to get to the gym. It’s just too easy for these to go left because it’s all they’re exposed to,” said Rosa.
“We’re one of the very few positive entities out here. We’ve been doing it by ourselves with no help but we’re at the point where we can’t afford it.”
Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected].