Officer John Jones had no experience with boxing. That is, until he saw the ring as a potential way to connect with at-risk teenagers in Cambridge, Mass.
“I’d go home and get on YouTube and I’d learn how to train boxing one-on-one,” Jones told CNN. “It was a fake-it-till-you-make-it kind of thing.”
Known as “JJ” by his students, Jones now teaches a free boxing program twice a week. The program strives to give underprivileged kids in the community a fighting chance to better their futures. Jones says in addition to helping them learn, he has helped his kids build important relationships with the police department.
The program began in 2011, initially targeting kids who were in and out of trouble at school or at home. Word spread and soon kids were bringing friends from all over the city. Jones decided to open the program to everyone.
The boxing program is a collaboration between the Cambridge Police Department Youth & Family Services Unit and the Cambridge YMCA, which provided the boxing ring and heavy bags for free. Classes teach kids self-defense, confidence, health and fitness, and most importantly, keeps them out of trouble.
“I don’t think I’ve ever missed a Tuesday or Thursday,” Jones explained. “I haven’t been on vacation since the program started because I can’t, I have to be back.”
His determination has made an important impact. Jones has trained nearly 750 kids over the last 7 years. Many of them have his phone number and reach out for guidance, support, and encouragement.
One of Jones’ star students is Alfonso Hidalgo. He came to the program when he was homeless and formed a strong bond with boxing, and with Jones. Hidalgo went on to participate in and win the Western New England’s Golden Glove Championship in 2016. He also excelled in school and earned his B.A. at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Hidalgo credits Jones with how far he has come. “He welcomed me. From the beginning, there was always like a good vibe. It was genuine. It felt genuine.”