Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

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.”

 

 

24
Feb
18

Strange times …

Protesters rally against gun violence in front of the old Florida Capital in Tallahassee, Florida, February 21, 2018. Photo credit: Mark Wallheiser, AP

As anyone who has read this blog for a while knows, I am no spring chicken.  Not that I am ready for the grave, but as a post-war baby boomer born in the mid-1950s, I’ve lived through extraordinary social and political change. And yes, by post-war I mean the “big one,” WW2.  I bring up WW2 because so much of the promise of America that led to notions of American exceptionalism in the 1950s was built on an ideology of American hegemony as not only beneficent, but as the savior of the world.  Scratch that surface, of course, and one tells a different story of McCarthyism, “lavender” scares, Jim Crow segregation, overt sexism and a host of other social and political ills. One can also argue, however, that the precise forces that led to American prosperity and might, created an atmosphere that laid the groundwork for the great movements of the late 1950s through the 1970s. Movements that brought us civil rights, the end to the Viet Nam War, gender and gay rights, open immigration, and a buy-in to notions American fairness and equality were finally bringing the promise of the American Declaration of Independence to the fore.

New York City subway, 1946. Photo credit: Stanley Kubrick

So fast forward decades, with all of our prosperity, and here we are as Americans in the era of ultimate free choice. We can chose to narcotize ourselves with any drug we wish for hours at a time, and by narcotize, I’m not even talking about actual drugs, but the hours we spend “binge watching” shows on our “smart devices,” from phones to electronic pads to computers and so on.  Sit on a subway these days and I defy you to find someone reading an actual book or a newspaper. Instead of carefully following the ritual of the New York Times fold while precariously hanging on to the “strap,” with our legs slightly bent at the knees to keep us upright as we lurch forward, one leans wherever possible with a snarly pout (thereby hogging the poll), while dexterously clicking through a myriad of games, Instagram posts, YouTube videos, or one binge watchable show or another. Not that reading a newspaper was any more social vis-a-vis that special New York City ethos of never engaging with a stranger, but the act of reading from an actual newspaper added a kind of kinesthetic experience, including what to do about the newsprint, that seems more active than todays “thumbing.”

New York City subway station, May 11, 2016, Photo credit: Jewel Samad, AFP, Getty Images

It also seems that a New York City subway these days is about as egalitarian as it gets–on the one hand the pride of the promise of America, but on the other, symptomatic of how down our rabbit hole of self-interest we have become, not to mention the crowding and inherent depersonalization of our post-modern life. That all aside, our current politic of retrograde-everything–that questions the heart of what Americanism truly is, has led to a clarion call that feels very much like the activism of by-gone eras in America.

Whether the Black Lives Matter movement born of one too many police shootings of people of color, the rise in women filing to run for office because their sick of ongoing sexism, the rise of #MeToo and #TimesUp, the burgeoning movement of teenager survivors of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida who’ve taken their case for gun control to the Florida State house, reengagement with the idea of nuclear disarmament, the pressing need to work to mitigate climate change, and so on, not to mention the rise in the concept of #Resistance born of Donald Trump’s election to the presidency; we are on the precipice of change and an awakened consciousness of our many problems and of the opportunity they bring for solutions.

Rather than the retrograde notion of making American “white” again — whatever that means given we were never that — or making America “America” again, i.e., non-immigrant, again something we never were; we are seeing in the rising of articulate and well-reasoned arguments, groups of people who are refusing to remain in their rabbit-holes of reality television, game shows and the latest binge-watchable series, to face up to speak truth to power. At the same time, commercial endeavors, such at the newly released Marvel spectacular, Black Panther, are provoking us to ask questions on a grander scale that not only call into question the idea of American hegemony, but the continuing damage of colonialism as a whole, and the larger hegemony of “western civilization” that is the root of American Exceptionalism.

And yes, I will not fail to mention, that were actual female warriors in the African Kingdom of Dahomey who fought bravely for centuries against all enemies, including the French Foreign Legion until they were finally defeated and disbanded once the nation came under Colonial thumb of the French.

What does this all mean in the end?

To my thinking it is time to wake up, get off our collective complacency, and begin to do the work of making this nation a country of real fairness and equity. That means doing the very hard work of facing our truths and in doing so, find our way forward to real solutions to our myriad problems. I fear if we do not, we shall meander into a further downward spiral that will find us further from the true prize of human progress.

Time will tell.

This speech given by Dr. King, delivered shortly before his death is prophetic, if painful to hear, but hear it you must.

Dr. Martin Luther King, “Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution” delivered on, March 31, 1968.

 

17
Feb
18

Sometimes what we need is the sublime

I watched the Heather “The Heat” Hardy versus Ana “The Hurricane” Julaton Bellator 194 “cage” fight last night. The bout was the first of their two-fight series–the second to be fought in the boxing ring at a date to be specified. Watching it, I was reminded that it always comes down to the work we put into things.

I’ve been seeing Heather three mornings a week at Gleason’s Gym since before the move to Water Street. We generally roll into the gym about the same time–between 6:30 and 7:00 AM, her to a roster of clients of varying skills and abilities she trains in the sweet science, and me to my work with trainer Lennox Blackmoore.  By 9:00 AM, Heather has usually started her own training and if she’s readying for a fight adds yet more hours for “camp” while still keeping up with her clients well into the evening, and her obligations to her daughter–not to mention selling tickets to her fights, giving interviews, meeting with sponsors and potential sponsors, and so on.

Given this is Heather’s profession–it is no wonder she puts in the time and effort, but given that her main profession has been as a boxer, those extra hours generally don’t amount to the kind of money that can guarantee her any sort of financial stability. Realizing that, Heather made the jump to MMA where women are treated more equitably when it comes to the purse at the end of a fight–not to mention a chance for exposure on television and a decent spot on the card so fans can actually see the contest. This in contrast to boxing where even though Heather sells tens of thousands of dollars in tickets, she’ll still end up the second fight on the card with no one in the stands.

I’ll leave it to the critics and trolls on Twitter to discuss whether the fight was really “boring” or not.

What I saw was the work.

Heather, at age 36, has trained with intensity and it showed. She used her newly gained grappling skills to effect and demonstrated how seriously she’s taking the switch over to the MMA world–no less seriously than Ana Julaton who also eschewed a boxing/kicking contest for the ground game and the perimeters of the cage.

More to the point, I was struck my Heather’s patience and acceptance of  what was coming at her as the fight played out. That spoke to a maturity in how she was approaching the fight–and gave truth to her insistence that she was working on adding “tools” to her arsenal of options in the cage.

Thinking about it later, it put in mind that we all need to take time with the things we are doing. That the fast pace of our American post-modern existence and its reliance on speed, the 24-hour rush of experience, and quick judgements that change from minute to minute, means that we lose out on the opportunity to be where we are when we are in it.

Aside from the will to win, the thing the best fighters bring to their bouts is the calm of being truly present. Surely that is a way towards finding our own moments of the sublime.

 

From the classic Jazz at the Philharmonic from 1949 at Carnegie Hall: Roy Eldridge (t); Tommy Turk (tb); Lester Young, Flip Phillips (ts); Charlie Parker (as); Hank Jones (p); Ray Brown (b); Buddy Rich (d). Recorded September 18, 1949 at Carnegie Hall, New York City. Original LP issue: Jazz at the Philharmonic Volume 13 Clef MG Vol 13

 

 

11
Feb
18

Truth and lies

Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison on February 11, 1990. He went on to be inaugurated President of South Africa on May 10, 1994.

At the end of the apartheid era in South Africa in 1994, one of the most brilliant decisions made early on was the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was based on an act passed in 1995 (Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act) on the belief that “a commission is a necessary exercise to enable South Africans to come to terms with their past on a morally accepted basis and to advance the cause of reconciliation.” It was an opportunity for victims and perpetrators to tell their stories and seek assistance in some cases and amnesty in others–and for the men and women of South Africa to rebuild their nation freed of the burdens of the apartheid era.

I know that I am simplifying a complex process that continues to the this day–but the lessons learned are instructive and cautionary as we continue to grapple with truth and lies in our body politic and in our personal lives.

No, it is never okay to abuse someone–whether physically, mentally, sexually, or emotionally. Just as it is never okay to perpetrate abuses against classes of persons whether they be ethnic, religious, sexual or otherwise. More to the point in what feels like a veritable war on sanity and justice–perhaps we all owe it to ourselves to confront our own truths and lies and an adage I take to heart, which is that cheating at solitaire serves no purpose, except perhaps to “kick the can” down the road as sooner or later truth wins out.

In the case of Rob Porter the current poster child for cheating at solitaire–here we have by all reports a brilliant person, who just happens to be an abusive sod. His behavior was abhorrent in not one, but two marriages, all known and discussed, ad infinitum it would seem, to include discussions with clergy and others as it was all playing out, not once, but twice. Fast forward lots of years and here he is begging his wives to downplay his abusive behavior so that he can get his FBI clearance–with nary a thought to what would happen to them if they perjured themselves. Not to mention the current President of the United States whose twitter rants read like alternative fiction when it comes to taking responsibility for ones actions.

I’ve lived long enough to observe and experience the ebb and flow of progressive politics, gender wars, civil rights fights and the inevitable backlash. I’ve also seen the lip service paid to affording people “equal” rights–while hearing damnable prejudice, sexism and everything else one can think of flung about quite openly.

In a recent conversation at Gleason’s Gym, someone was speaking of his Jewish grandmother who’d left Poland in the early 1900s. He had asked her one day if she’d ever go back and she said, “Never. I have no good memories there. My brother and my cousin were both killed for nothing. Why would I go back?”

We mulled that over for a minute or two, and then he said, “Can you imagine that? That’s why America was like gold to her and her generation.”

After a moment I said, “For her perhaps, but that was life for Black folks: people killed for nothing. Was it gold for them?”

And that, I believe is the crux of things for us. We refuse to see our own truths for what they are: we ignore the truths of our lives as victims and as perpetrators, and in so doing we perpetuate these actions as normative. Think of the parent who insists they are setting their kid straight when language spews out that belittles and diminishes their child, or think of the actions of a President who calls out an entire ethnic group as rapists and criminals.

It really is up to us to say enough as enough, and if not in the formal setting of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission–at the very least in the conduct of our daily lives and in how we hold our elected leaders accountable.




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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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