Outside the Ring: Jamal James is Using His Platform to Give Back

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The welterweight contender returns to the ring versus former world champion Antonio DeMarco Saturday night on PBC on FS1. But James is fighting for more than just glory or gain.

Top welterweight contender and Minneapolis native Jamal "Shango" James (25-1, 12 KOs) is on two missions: one is to secure a world title in the near future, and the other is to raise awareness of Circle of Discipline, a local non-profit organization that he works with closely.

The first mission continues this Saturday, July 13, when he faces former world champion Antonio DeMarco at The Armory in Minneapolis, live on PBC on FS1 (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT).

The second mission is the reason why the first is so important.

“It’s the reason I train so hard,” James said. “Obviously it’s helped me be successful but it’s given me a platform to bring awareness to my organization. Getting higher in the rankings and fighting on TV will hopefully help me reach more young men and women and help them keep their heads on straight.”

Circle of Discipline is part boxing gym, part community center/outreach program, located in Minneapolis. Their goal is to empower underrepresented people in the community by providing them with greater access to opportunities that will improve their lives holistically.

"I grew up with the Circle of Discipline," James said. "I’ve seen it change a lot of lives. I don’t know where I’d be without it. When I was younger I had a short fuse and anger problems like a lot of kids. There’s no better place than a boxing gym to learn to control that because you can’t lose your cool in the ring—it’ll get you in trouble.

"Amateur boxing is one of its biggest programs. That brings a lot of people in, and the gym is open to everybody. But the focus of the non-profit is on kids, to mentor these young men and women and keep them on a positive path.

“We work closely with JDC (Juvenile Detention Center). Depending on what they got in trouble for, kids can get sent to our organization. Through boxing, the discipline they learn can calm that energy down.”

As many boxers can attest, the sport is appealing partly because of its correlation to life. Jamal and the other Circle of Discipline (C.O.D.) utilize the sweet science for that very reason.

“We use boxing as a tool because it’s one of the toughest sports, and it can be applied directly to life,” said James. “With most other sports you have a team. If you slack a little bit in training, your team can pick up your slack. But with boxing, you can’t slack. It’ll show up in that ring. That’s the same lesson that we teach in the gym that applies to life. You can only blame others for your problems for so long before you realize it’s your life and you have to make the changes needed to be successful.”

In addition to reaching out to children in need, Circle of Discipline empowers the young men and women who have learned the ropes to begin to help other, younger kids and take on leadership roles themselves.

“It’s about giving back,” James said. “There’s always people in life who help you and you shouldn't take that for granted. Somebody did it for you and [passing it on] is the only way society and the world will start to get better.”

Jamal is living proof that it works. On top of his burgeoning boxing career, he devotes much of his free time to leading programs and classes at C.O.D. A program he started, Pursuit of Discipline or P.O.D., is a group that meets weekly to discuss a wide variety of critical topics. Its members are all ages and come from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds.

James ensures that the group learns about issues that benefit everyone.

“The kids in the group are coming from low income communities, so their parents are working two jobs,” said the welterweight contender. “They might not get a lot of time with their parents, so I felt like they might be missing out on a lot of lessons that you can’t get taught in school. So I started this group where we can talk about issues like how to deal with peer pressure, relationships, politics, and financial literacy so they learn how to save money when they get a job.”

James has begun arranging for P.O.D. members to learn about specific, relevant issues so they can take action themselves and help change their lives for the better.

“My girl is a therapist—she came to talk to the group about therapy, mental health, trauma, and depression. They were very interested. A lot of times people deal with a certain level of trauma that they don’t even realize is trauma. You think maybe this is normal and you just kind of deal with it.

“We’ll do field trips. The Armory, where I compete in Minnesota, I’m close with one of the owners. He allowed me to bring a group to the Armory and gave them a tour of the facility. He talked to them about what it takes to run a business like that.

“We have somebody who comes in and helps people find jobs. My mom is a big advocate of voting and she helps teach everyone about the importance of voting, how politics work, and voting for your local officials—not just for the presidential elections. We had a couple young men and women who voted for the first time recently and they came in with their ‘I Voted’ stickers. They were so proud.”

Circle of Discipline prides itself on being an open, family-like environment where people of all ages and all cultures, from all walks of life, feel welcome.

James has seen C.O.D. turn many peoples’ lives around.

“One of my partners that I grew up with—he wasn’t a bad kid, but we got in trouble for certain things. He’s a pastor now and does a lot of community work with kids. It’s super dope to see him doing that now.

“I’ve got a buddy, Celso Ramirez, who’s boxing on the undercard on Saturday. I’ve known him since he was a little kid. He used to get in trouble in school, running around in the streets. Now he’s getting ready to be a fireman. It came through a member of the P.O.D. group who’s a fireman.”

James is so passionate about the organization that he’s inspired other fighters to visit Circle of Discipline and speak to the young people there.

“Shout out to Caleb Plant, my guy Lamon Brewster, and Montell Griffin. I asked if they’d be willing to come down and talk to the kids about the discipline it takes to be a world champion and what it takes to be successful. And they did it! It was so great that they took the time.”

It’s not just professional fighters who can help. James has a message for fans who are interested in the work he and the other Circle of Discipline staff are doing.

“Follow me on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter if you want to know what’s going on with me and check out Circle of Discipline’s website. You can find out about the programs there, and if anybody wants to volunteer or donate, it’s very helpful.”

For a closer look at Jamal James, check out his fighter page. 

Circle of Discipline empowers underrepresented community members by providing greater access to opportunities that increase knowledge of and practice toward 360˚ of physical, spiritual and mental wellness.

"Outside the Ring" is a regular feature centered on the charitable efforts of PBC fighters. Learn more about what motivates these boxers and the causes they support outside the ring.

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