By Andrew Kelleher
Lansing Star staff writer
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. For the underprivileged youth of the Lansing area, their hero weighs in at 205 pounds and runs the Crown Boxing Club. Coach Ali Easley gives kids who never have had a true role model, someone to look up to.
He founded a non-profit organization called the Help A Willing Kid Foundation in 1994 as a way to give back to the community. He explained, “I knew whenever I was a young kid how much it meant to me to be able to go to a gym and talk to my coaches about issues that maybe I couldn’t talk to my parents about.”
Easley moved to the Lansing area in the 1980s for a teaching job at Lansing Community College. During his time there, a boxing manager recruited and signed him as a fighter. Easley affiliated with this man until he could open his own gym in 1991, the Crown Boxing Club. In his gym, he set up an atmosphere for success.
Before a workout, young fighters sit down, wrap their hands and listen to whatever music Easley has playing over the speaker system. Each workout begins on time. Once the routine is in progress, you can hear the speed bags being pounded back and fourth, the jump ropes skipping on the ground, or Easley coaching someone to fix their boxing stance, “Keep your fists up! Move your feet!” After the workout is over, you can tell from everyone’s face that they feel accomplished like they did something worthwhile.
The Help A Willing Kid foundation is set up so that youth in the Lansing area have a place to go after school. On a typical day, Easley works with about 25-30 students, teaching them boxing techniques and conditioning. Whenever they step into the gym, they can forget about outside distractions, including problems at home or school. It allows them to be part of a unique team that has something for everyone.
Typically, when a sports team is put together, as in basketball, all the players need to be around the same age and skill level. Easley has been able to build a team of youths from 8 to 18. Even with this wide age range.
Easley: “Those kids can train together as a team. They do the same pushups, they learn the same punching combinations, they learn how to jump rope, they learn all that together, and when we travel, we do so as one team.”
The Help A Willing Kid Foundation teaches not only boxing techniques but also provides a support system. The youngsters are given clothing, used school supplies, hot meals, and are sometimes sent home with canned foods. The organization can exist because of grants, in-house fundraising, and a class through Michigan State University, KIN 103V- Boxing Conditioning. The class provides money for the organization because Easley donates his teaching salary, which is then matched by MSU, along with a lab fee of $65 per student. Easley has created a way for students to give back to the community.
After taking the level one course through Michigan State, students have can take the level two boxing class. In the second class, there are some chores. Either clean the bathrooms, wash towels or help teach the Lansing community class at 7 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays. The last option is by far the most rewarding.
Jayme Danzig, 20-year-old junior at Michigan State University, saw the opportunity and ran with it. She said the program lets her help the kids, “get their life together. Boxing is something that helps a lot of kids with aggression, and it keeps them busy. So, I mean, I enjoy helping kids and keeping them in the program.”
Thousands of young people have walked into the doors of the Crown Boxing Club and walked out stronger. Aarkeyse Higdon, known as Keke, age 15, is one. Weighing in at 120 pounds, Higdon fell in love with boxing. He said, “One day, when I was younger, me and my friends, we used to box on the trampoline. Then one day, his mom asked if we wanted to go to a boxing gym.”
The fact that these young people travel to different states and participate in tournaments is another benefit of the program. Hogdon hopes he will be good enough to be a part of the USA Olympic Team. He goes into the gym with that goal in mind every day, which makes him work hard and stay focused.
At the end of each day, Easley goes to bed knowing he has done everything in his power to be a positive influence on young people. Through the Help A Willing Kid Foundation he has helped young fighters win amateur national titles, be alternates for the Olympic Team, and pursue professional careers in boxing.
But there are also kids that he helped who graduated from high school, never got arrested, never got in serious trouble, and now hold jobs. Easley explains his goals in simple words, “I take a little out of every kid … if they can succeed in life, then that kind of goes to what I’m trying to do.”
For information or to ask donate, contact Easley at: Crown Boxing Club, 1010 Ballard St., Lansing, MI 48906-5358 or 517-367-0100. Mailing Address: P.O. Box 13 East Lansing, MI 48826