Anointed Hands Boxing Gym on Pontchartrain Drive in Slidell is a modest facility, filled with loud music and kids. It is kind of like a community center — the coach taught a group of kids how to hit the boxing bags while others played on gym equipment and parents joked at the front desk.
It is not necessarily what you would expect at a boxing gym. That could be because the owners, Dupre and Shedee Strickland, aim to do more than offer training for aspiring boxers — they want to help.
One young person the gym has impacted is Gabi. She is a junior at Slidell High. We will only use her first name in the story in order to protect her. She was adopted several years ago and moved to Slidell from Chalmette after social services removed her from an abusive family home.
“I never had anything like this to show me and guide me and motivate me. I’ve never had a family," Gabi says. "Coach Dupre has really guided me through the right tracks, he just doesn’t teach me what’s right and wrong about how to box — he’s not just a coach, he’s like a father figure, he’s family.”
Gabi was adopted by Della Koen, who said her whole family boxes, so she got Gabi into it pretty much right away and it has been a lifesaver. Koen explained that Gabi has had a lot of emotional issues, but boxing gives her a sense of empowerment.
“It’s a place she feels like she belongs," Koen says. She has a hard time in school feeling like she belongs, because the kids pick on her because she seems slower, since she missed so many grades of school in the abusive home she was in. But here it’s like a family, and when she does have problems coach talks to her about it and then she gets her aggression out on the bag and then she starts mastering things. She mastered the speed bag and that was a big thing; she was like, ‘Mom, I mastered the speed bag!’ and she felt so special,” said Koen.
Kim Vanderklis, Principal of Little Oak Middle School, also takes lessons at the gym and regularly refers troubled kids to Anointed Hands. She explained that boxing is the ideal sport for low-income, at-risk kids, because it is inexpensive and personal.
“It’s an individual thing," she says. It’s not like you’re on a team and you have to perform to keep a team together. But here, it’s all about them, and each one you can see them develop at different levels. One is ready to learn the boxing moves where the other one is ready to exercise, just being an individual sport is what I think is good for them,” said Vanderklis.
People like Vanderklis pay for a membership at Anointed Hands, which operates as both a business and a nonprofit community group. Some teenagers are able to fulfill community service hours at the gym and also receive coaching through a partnership with the local courts.
The Stricklands say they never turn kids away and Vanderklis says she sees great results, “I think it gives them confidence and they’re stronger, they’re healthier, they feel better. Because a lot of times the kids are sitting there, and they’re not obese but they just don’t have any energy, because kids really don’t do anything anymore — they don’t ride their bikes anymore, they don’t do anything," she says. "So, coming here you’d think these little skinny kids could outrun me or box for a long time, but they really can’t, they’re out of shape."
Strickland says she can really see a difference at her school between the kids that exercise and the ones who don't.
Gabi trains at the gym most days of the week.
"This mentally and physically gets out what I need," she says. "In the ring, you realize something: it’s just like reality. You’re not on a team, you can’t blame nobody, when you’re in the ring you’re by yourself. When you do something wrong you can only blame yourself. It’s just like life, you can’t depend on nobody else.”
She said she’s excited about training for a regional competition in February.
Dupre Strickland has served not only as a trainer, but a mentor, helping her work through her past and find a healthy outlet. He has high hopes for her.
“I see a lot of potential in Gabi. She really wants to fight, be a female fighter, and I see that she could go a long way. Since she’s been here she’s improved a lot, with her attitude, she’s made a whole 360 degree turnaround, and I’m proud of that,” said Strickland.
The Stricklands plan to take Gabi and other students to compete at the Louisiana State Golden Gloves next year.
Gabi wants to pursue professional boxing and go to law school to become a lawyer someday. But for now, she continues to train and keep her eyes on the prize.
Support for Northshore Focus is provided by The Northshore Community Foundation.