Champions in the ring such as Deontay Wilder, Danny Garcia and Abner Mares are also championing causes in their communities.
Deontay Wilder, an undefeated heavyweight titleholder from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, works with kids in Coffeeville, Alabama, where “The Bronze Bomber” and his manager/co-trainer Jay Deas help support a boxing program.
“When Coffeeville High School closed down, it was an area where kids really had nothing to do,” said Wilder, the subject of a 2014 children’s book, Deontay the Future World Champ.
“Jay had a great idea for a refuge for children and bringing something positive to the city. I’ve held training camps in Coffeeville from time to time to help keep kids off the streets.”
Wilder, 31, became a father at the age of 19 to his oldest daughter, Naieya, who was born with spina bifida, a congenital spinal cord defect. Since then, he has been involved with the Spina Bifida Association and other organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the American Heart Association.
During the ring walk before his title-earning victory over Bermane Stiverne in Las Vegas in January 2015, Wilder was led by wheelchair-bound rapper and friend, Anthony “Amp” Webster, a former amateur boxer whose career ended after being struck by a drunk driver.
“I had scheduled a well-known artist, but I knew it would be important to Amp,” said Wilder, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist who turned pro that November at age 23. “I embrace the opportunity to work with kids, being a great champion, leader and role model who is not only measured by what I do inside the ring but outside of it.”
Danny Garcia, a former two-division champion, expects a crowd at his DSG barbershop in September, when the 29-year-old Philadelphia native will welcome youth seeking free haircuts. Last November, Garcia also partnered on a food drive with the hunger-relief organization Philabundance at Temple University.
“Every September we do free haircuts and back-to-school backpack and school supplies giveaways, and team up with the Ecko clothing brand for free T-shirts," Garcia said.
“We get at least 300 to 500 people every year. The kids really appreciate it. Coming from the neighborhood, I know what it feels like to have nothing. It’s a great feeling to be in position to help kids who are less fortunate.”
“ Giving back is really important. I know how tough their lives are and I don’t forget where I come from. ” Three-division world champion Abner Mares, on supporting youth programs in Los Angeles
Abner Mares, a three-division champion and current 126-pound titleholder, has provided tickets to his past two fights for underprivileged and at-risk youth, along with their parents and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department members.
Mares, 31, also provides financial support and equipment for kids in amateur boxing programs, mentors children from rough areas of Southern California and will donate backpacks and school supplies next month to the L.A. County Sheriff's Century Youth Activity League.
“We do the school supplies every year for kids who find it difficult to afford those things,” said Mares, born the fourth of 11 siblings who escaped violence and poverty growing up in the Hawaiian Gardens section of Los Angeles.
“They look up to me as an inspiration because I made it out of there, I’m doing well and they can relate to what I went through. Giving back is really important. I know how tough their lives are and I don’t forget where I come from."
Gary Russell Jr., a 126-pound titleholder, also funds an amateur boxing program, flying in youth from around the country to his hometown of Capitol Heights, Maryland.
Former world champions Daniel Jacobs and Anthony Dirrell, a pair of cancer survivors, also have charitable programs. Jacobs, a Brooklyn, New York native, advocates for children struggling with cancer, childhood obesity and bullying through his Get in the Ring Foundation.
The Dirrell’s Chance Foundation has been established toward efforts to stop bullying, raise funds for cancer research, provide scholarships, help improve a troubled school system and provide mentoring programs in Dirrell’s hometown of Flint, Michigan.
Former 135-pound champion Omar Figueroa Jr. also distributes backpacks and school supplies at his family’s annual Johnny Boots Christmas Toy Drive, which was originated by his grandfather, Juan Botas, who used to sell tamales to purchase toys for children in Mexico.
“You want to be an example of the message that they should never give up,” Mares said. “There are many young kids who are gifted and talented in many ways. If they believe in themselves, they can succeed at anything they set their minds to and see a light at the end of the tunnel.”