Archive for March, 2018

25
Mar
18

If not now when?

Draylon Mason, a 17-year-old musician killed by a package bomb at his home in Austin, Texas on March 12, 2018

I have felt terribly whipsawed of late by the constant flow of news that hits my consciousness through one channel or another. I’ve even turned off all of the alerts that used to bombard my smart phone, but shutting down the input doesn’t mean the stories aren’t there, from the latest hate-filled invective of the our current president on through the latest senseless death.

On the day the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida spearheaded a remarkable worldwide outpouring of support for sensible gun-laws and a deeper look at how our prejudices and bigoted assumptions skew our reaction to gun violence, I caught hold of the following story out of Austin, Texas: Austin bombing victim accepted at Oberlin before death.

The “bombing victim” referred to was Draylon Mason. He was a talented double-bassist who was one of 130 students accepted into the Oberlin Conservatory of Music out of a pool of 1,500 applicants. It seems he’d been accepted into the school prior to his horrific death when a package bomb exploded and killed him. The bombing on March 12, 2018 also caused extensive injuries to his mother. It was the second bomb that had exploded in what became a serial bombing case. The bomber, Mark Anthony Conditt, a 23-year-old a white Christian, was not labeled a terrorist and in the days that followed, it was revealed he had left behind a cell phone recording, described by a law enforcement official as “the outcry of a very challenged young man.”

I do not dispute that a “lone wolf” bomber is likely “very challenged.” No more than any of the other whackos that grab weapons of mass destruction to gun down students and concert goers and crowds of shoppers and so on.

What I feel broken by is how we as a society continue to discount the lives of people of color. Where were the stories about Draylon Mason’s life? Where was the compassion for his parents and family and friends about his death? Where are the ribbons on the trees near his house and the candles and vigils?

All of this leaves me with the query: if not now when?

We cannot have another senseless death on our hands without really looking deeply at who we have become as a society. Our children have shown us a path for dialogue–and now it is up to all of us to heed their call to actually do something about it. Enough is enough.

 

 

21
Mar
18

The gym is closed today

My ritual of morning is out of kilter.

With the gym closed today there’s no need to push myself out of bed at 5:30 to begin the process of readying for the gym. Gone is the symmetry of my every other weekday morning boxing workout with my trainer Lennox Blackmoore.  Of the silent walk to the gym, and brief chitter-chatter with the coffee guys in front of the court-house in downtown Brooklyn.

On different mornings, I have different looks and feelings. Mostly I’m reassured by the discipline of making it to Gleason’s Gym pretty much without fail. I arrive, wave to the early morning denizens and making my way to the locker room, transform myself into my boxer self.

It is in the locker room where I set out my tools–my well-worn rival sparring gloves, my hand wraps and my shoes, my water bottle and towel, while hanging up my work clothes for the quick shower and change after my workout.

Ready for battle, I enter the ring to begin the rounds of shadow boxing, working on my footwork and my mix of combinations, careful to always snap my jab with my right hand up.

The rounds with Lennox — four to six depending on how much energy we have.

The four rounds on the double-ended bag, or the heavy bag.

The four rounds on the slip bag or the speed bag.

Sometimes an added bit of something, sometimes not.

Each has a place in my ritual of morning.

Mostly it is all about the sweat and pushing myself and staying positive during those times when I am anything but. This past year has had its difficulties. I still mourn my father’s death in June, finding strength in my memories of him performing his 300 crunches while hooked up to the oxygen that was his mainstay as he bravely battled COPD.  And perhaps it is that memory that pushes me to haul myself out of bed, even when I’ve only managed to get to sleep at 1:00 AM. Other mornings it is the concept that #ageisjustanumber or that the pursuit of one’s passions keep one young and vibrant and vital.

With the gym closed, I find myself up anyway at 5:29, a full hour ahead of my reset alarm clock. Up and wondering what I shall do. Go back to sleep? Scroll through posts on social media? Worry about the latest headlines in the news? The offer I saw on Facebook for an opponent to fight a former world champion for the ridiculous,  insulting and ultimately dangerous fee to the life and safety of the woman who will feel compelled to accept $2,000?

Instead, I find myself here at the dining table. Up and writing, thankful that I’ve given myself the chance to pivot and turn towards my other source of solace and sanity in a crazy world.

 

 

08
Mar
18

Exclusive Q and A with Alicia Ashley ahead of WBC title fight

Alicia “Slick” Ashley (24-11-1), with a career that began with her NY Daily News Golden Gloves win in 1996, is set to fight Dina Thorslund, a 24-year-old, 10-0 fighter on March 10, 2018, at Struer Energi Park in Denmark. The pair will fight for the interim WBC World Super Bantamweight Championship, a title Ashley has won, lost, and defended in some memorable battles.

At 50 years of age, Ashley continues to fight with incredible strength, stamina, and durability. And while she has not fought since defeating Liliana Martinez (20-16-0), in March of 2017, it was not for lack of trying, having had bouts canceled in that period. With her fight against Thorslund who has an undefeated record against European fighters, Ashley hopes to capture the coveted WBC title once again.

Alicia “Slick” Ashley, Photo Credit: Tim Knox

In the midst of preparing for the fight, Ashley agreed to an exclusive Q and A for Girlboxing readers. This is what she had to say.

  1. You’ve got a fight coming up on Saturday, March 10, 2018 against Dina Thorslund, a 24-year-old, 10-0 fighter from Denmark for the vacant interim WBC World Female Super Bantamweight fight. What should we be looking for in that fight?

I think it will be an exciting fight. She’s an aggressive, straight forward puncher and I will continue to be elusive, slick and faster counter puncher.

  1. You’ll be fighting Dina Thorslund on her home turf. She’s also an orthodox fighter and speaking of you in an interview, her coach, Thomas Madsen, said, “Her strength is clearly her technique and ability to slip punches. Her weakness, among other things, is that she is incredibly open when she attacks herself. Dina must put pressure on Ashley from the outset. She must also avoid chasing Ashley and instead focus on cutting off the ring.”  What challenges does this pose in terms of your game plan for the bout?

It will be hard for her to change her fight style and to put pressure on me without chasing me. My movement is not linear. I don’t move in the same direction and I throw punches off my movement. She tends to be very flat-footed because she wants to punch hard so I think she will always be two steps behind me. I don’t believe my game plan will change, if I have to adjust in the ring, I will.

  1. At fifty, you are more than twice the age of your opponent–not necessarily anything new for you given that most of your opponents are much, much younger. Given that you turned pro in 1999 when Dina Thorsland was five years old, what keeps you fighting?

The reason I continue to fight is because I love this sport and I’m not getting any damage neither from my training nor my fights. I’ve been fighting girls half my age since I turned 42, so yes this is nothing new.

  1. You’ve been training hard and consistently over the last few years and have given renewed focus to your training having begun working with Luis Guzman in New York and the great retired women’s boxing champion Ada Velez in Ft. Lauderdale, who will be in your corner at Struer Energi Park, on March 10th.  How has this renewed focused added to your repertoire in the ring, and what do you feel it will give you in your fight against Dina?

I will have not only Ada Velez who also fought here in Denmark, but my old trainer Hector Roca in my corner. I gained a newfound love for the sport when I started training with both Luis and Ada because of the wealth of knowledge that both these past fighters have. If Dina’s camp watches my previous fights and expect the same fighter, they will be extremely surprised with what I bring to the ring now.

  1. In 2014, I interviewed you ahead of a title bout and had asked you about the state of women’s boxing in the United States. A lot has happened since then, including the rising of female Olympians and the likes of Claressa Shields appearing as the main event on ShoBox: The Next Generation. In your view is this enough, or is there still much, much further to go in terms of promotion, regular appearance on televised boxing shows, pay equity and the like?

There is still much to do to bring any type of equality to female fighters. I see the exact same thing happening in the US now that happened 10 years ago when Laila Ali was around. The American promoters only showcase one rising star as opposed to leveling the playing field by showcasing a female fight on every card. The boxing audience has a short memory and seeing one female fight every 6-8 months is not enough to sustain growth in our sport. This is why MMA have leaped frog Boxing in female equity and why we are losing a dearth of female boxers to that sport. 

  1. This is your first fight in nearly a year, but not for lack of trying having had bouts cancelled at the last moments twice during this period.  What in your view is the reason for the continued inconsistencies of female fight promotion in the United States–and the continued need for you to fight overseas?

The inconsistencies are easily explained by promoters not believing or supporting women in boxing. Every fight that I’ve done overseas is a main event and has television coverage. The US promoters keep insisting that females are not a draw and do not sell but in every other country it is proven that we can and do. This problem rests solely on the promotion teams. Some big name promoters insist that they support women boxing but have yet to prove it if they only show men on television.

  1. You keep up a “ridiculous” schedule–training fighters from 6:00 in the morning till late at night, not to mention special weekend clinics, and your own training which consists of daily workouts and the extra two to three hours a day you put in for “camp” ahead of your fights. You are also a role model to so many of the female fighters you work with as a coach, a mentor, and as a colleague.  Given your years in the sport, what can you tell us about where we go from here in a professional, and frankly amateur world, that doesn’t consider the work and efforts of female boxers on an equal footing.

As you can see in this day and time, it isn’t just female boxers who strive to be on equal footing. This is systematic in the US in many sports and workplaces. As female boxers we have to join the #TimesUp movement and stop short-changing ourselves especially with pay. Over 10 years ago, I received $10K for a title fight, the fact that promoters are still offering $10K for a title fight now is ridiculous. There isn’t even a consideration of inflation. Male fighters going for their first title earn easily 10 times that amount and they are usually the opponent. We must stand up for ourselves.

  1. Perhaps you truly will be fighting professionally at 80, but regardless, what do you say to the young women who come into the gym wanting to fight?

This sport is brutal and sometimes unforgiving but to truly get the most out of it, you have to develop a true love of this sport. It will give you strength and self-esteem but it can do everything to knock you down. If you can get back up and start over again then boxing will give you the utmost satisfaction. I commend anyone who boxes.

03
Mar
18

“I can set myself free through imagination …”

A great premise of Alice Walker’s monumental work, The Color Purple, was the idea that Celie could become herself and validate her being, by writing letters to God. The notion that through an active imaginative process one can free oneself from the burdens of extraordinary pain and suffering remains a last bastion of self-actualization for many in a variety of settings and experiences. One need only glimpse at the news to see the sorts of terrors people live through–and the brilliance of their resilience.

While most of us do not live in the kind of tortured existence that Celie’s character experienced, we nonetheless tie ourselves up in the knots that bind us emotionally and physically to lesser or greater degrees. Some are historical, some are actual, some are derived from neurotic fantasy, but no less real or psychically draining.

In a recent interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, the actor Winston Duke who played the role of M’Bako, the leader of the Wakanda mountain tribe, the Jabari, in Marvel’s film, Black Panther, spoke to just such an idea. Speaking about the questions raised by the notion of an African country unfettered by Colonialism, and having come from Trinidad and Tobago, in the Caribbean, Duke tried to express the difficulty in attempting to consider life without the legacy of Colonialism. In thinking about it he said the film had been important to him because he realized that he actually did have power.

“I can set myself free through imagination,” he said.

And there it was, the concept that thinking a thing, that working through the problem that imprisons oneself can lead to a kind of freedom that not only will be for oneself, but as a legacy and roadmap for others to follow.

Down in the real world of living a life, working, teasing through the relationships of family and friends, and keeping oneself afloat for all those hours of the day–I am particularly affected by the idea that in willing something, staking the claim against whatever the odds are, one can free oneself. More to the point, that action resonates, because as one frees oneself, those around us see and experience that freedom. And as each of us works through the experiences that hamstring us, whether experienced yesterday or as a legacy across multiple generations, we do have within us the power to release ourselves from those things that hamper us so greatly.

At least I’d like to believe that, and as Winston Duke so elegantly put it, “I can set myself free through imagination.”

 

 




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© Malissa Smith and Girlboxing, 2010-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Malissa Smith and Girlboxing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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