The boxers of my City became small town heroes and local celebrities by taking on the City. We were able to get the Mayor on the record to promise a meeting with me, their representative. Now, I feel so run down with all the councillors, mayors, and local political leaders who want a meeting with me. But just yesterday, we were nobodies. Here's how we made our presence known.
The City has run down its own boxing program to shambles. At one point, our boxing program has produced national champions and hosted tournaments, in which Shane Mosley, Fernando Vargas, and Oscar de la Hoya fought in. Now we're open three days a week. Now we can't produce fighters. And the City still keeps cutting.
Why would it do it? I mean the answer wasn't so obvious but after doing enough research and understanding the politics of the City, you find out that all roads lead back to one Council Member. It takes three out of five votes to make anything in this City happen. The Matron Council Member, controls the majority faction. But why would she keep cutting from our program and where does it go?
She likes to run the City like it's her home. Not our City. So, a little research reveals that she places her friends in power: such as the Chief of Police, the Director of Finances (come and gone), and others. Matron Councillor's children are in the aquatics program. Therefore, the boxing funds got cut and put into her children's program - aquatics.
After coming back from Cabo San Lucas, many of the promises made by the director were not kept. We were not getting funding from the city. The City didn’t care about us. So, it was time for mobilization, organization, and the exercise of the Freedom of Assembly and Speech.
We planned it out at my house - the whole thing. It was in the living room, usually at evenings. And as the leaders of the program and I met at my home, I felt the spirit of my father haunt me. He used to sit in the living room with his business friends in the same chair I was sitting in.
When I was a kid, I would run around the living room as a six year old. His friends would give me money. I would thank them. They would pat my head. My father would tell me that the adults were talking and to quiet down.
When we planned our campaign against Baldwin Park in his chair, I felt a phantasmic, eerie feeling overcome me. I was him and those at my roundtable were like his friends. They were my small council. But we were really nobodies. We had no money, no real power. I had no job. But we had a cause: Bring Back Our Boxing Club!
At my small council, we were devising a strategy, and my boxing masters chimed in on what to do. We would debate and listen and re-discuss. It's been a long time since I've been a meeting in which I wasn't bored. We were having way too much fun.
I printed out the boxing posters that have been attached above in the post. I had all the kids sign it. They would be gifts for the Mayor , the Councillors, and the Director of Parks and Recreation
The director walked into the boxing gym before our presentation (or should I say demonstration). He looked nervous. He wasn't puffed up as usual. He asked how everything was.
I saw him trying to assert himself against my boxing coaches. But it wasn't working. He knew we were up to something but didn't know what.
I walked over with a big smile on my face and said, "Hey you like our posters? They're really nice. Aren't they?"
"Yeah - they look really good." He looked like he was sweating.
I told Luis, my boxing coach and organizer, get everyone to City Hall with the posters. I changed out into my gym shorts. I wore a sleeveless red shirt. I put on my dog tags. I asked Julian to wrap my hands in that mummy wrap. Now, I looked like a boxer.
I met the boxers in front of the Council Chambers. One girl said, "Paul, you didn't say we had to do public speaking?"
Another girl said, "Why did you tell us to come in our gym clothes? It's embarrassing. They're wearing suits."
A white guy, in a suit walked out of the Council Chamber. He looked at me. He looked disgusted at me and us. He was the director of public works.
I could feel the tension in my group. Many of them never did public speaking before. Although most were kids and teenagers, even the men had very little experience speaking too. I had to ease their tension.
I spoke to the group. "Don't worry. Have courage. They can't do anything to us."
"I'll be there. But I want you to remember why we're here. We're here because we love our boxing program. We're here because they've cut our boxing program and taken away one day after another. And we're just going to let them know that it's not right."
They nodded in silence.
"I'll be up there for you. So have courage. Do not be afraid. Speak from the heart."
When the public comments period opened up, I took the hand of a six year old boy and two little girls followed me down the isle to the podium. I could see the eyes scanning my body, which was the point, by the way. They had let themselves get fat. I had stayed fit. It was a message about the boxing program. In their hands, the kids carried red boxing gloves.
The little boy went up first. But he was paralyzed and couldn't speak. One of the Council Woman in the minority power said, "It's ok. Take your time."
Then the little boy did speak. And he said, "I love boxing."
Then the little girl spoke and said she loved boxing too. I had the three of them sit in front row, where the Mayor and Councillors could see them. I took the red boxing gloves from the kid's hands and hung them around my neck. I would stand at the side of the podium, comforting the nervous speakers, while being in my boxing outfit and having gloves hang from my neck. It made a statement.
The statements ranged from, "Why are you cutting our program?" to "Boxing has changed my life."
One fighter, someone in their thirties said, "I joined boxing for all the wrong reasons. I wanted to learn to crush people. But you know, because I had a program to come to, and it really did keep me off the streets and drugs."
The last four speakers were special. Luis, the boxing coach, came up and said, "I've been in the boxing program now for four years. You don't know how much it's done for my life. But now that I'm a coach, I wanted to let you know it's impossible to make a fighter while only having three days."
Then a retired coach, called the Chief came up to speak. He addressed the Mayor and Councillors and said, "I've been coaching for 10 years at the program. And it's a really good program." He started shaking with emotion, so I put my hand on his shoulder. Then he continued, "You know - we never said anything before. I would continue coaching, but I have health problems now." The guy invested so much of his own money into the program and took care of the kids because the City wouldn't. "And I know that Carrillo does the best he can."
During the whole demonstration, I watched a very stressed out director, who was constantly fidgeting his pen.
"But we really can't go on like this with all these cuts." His words were sparse but his life spoke volumes.
When he left, a sports journalist, boxer, and producer took the podium. He was different from the rest of us because he was white with blonde hair and blue eyes and he wore a suit. He stated how he joined because of the tournaments. How the surrounding cities have longer hours than us. And how he remembered Shane Mosely, Oscar de la Hoya, and Bradley and Vargas coming through our gym. Him mentioning the facts and his journalist-producer role threw them all back too.
When he left, I moved a few inches to the right. The one who was standing on the side now took the podium. I stayed quiet for a few seconds to let the pain and presence settle with them. Now it was time to speak in front of the King and his Court. The few seconds of silence announced my presence in a way that only silence could do.
I said, "Good evening, Mayor and Councillors." I paused again. I had written three of them, who all refused to meet with me. They all received my letter and now they could see the face that accompanied my name. "I'm Paul Cook." I smiled. I knew four of five of them didn't have a college degree. "I graduated from this town, Valedictorian of Sierra Vista High School. I was a full scholar at UCLA with a degree in a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of science. I have a Masters from New Zealand and juris doctorate from UCLA. I am an attorney at law. I'm disappointed Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem that you would not meet with me. So because you did not, I brought the boxing gym to you." I paused again.
"Let me tell you why the boxing gym is important to me. When I came back to Baldwin Park, I had failed the bar because of a loved one of mine, who had cancer. I asked myself what Baldwin Park had to offer. I figured it was boxing. I took it up for the psychological rebuilding and also the discipline. But I found much, much more.
"When I went to re-sit the bar in Culver City, Julian the head coach and a boxer accompanied me to see me off. I felt like I was like a Native American going out for the hunt to prove myself before I could return back to my tribe. They drove me all the way out to the West Side to wish me luck. My own family would not do that for me."
I paused again.
"But they did. My boxers were there for my celebration dinner as well. I just wanted to let you know, not only did I pass one of the most difficult bar in California's history, in which it failed 60% of test takers, but my multiple choice score was at least in the top 20%. Guess what? There's only one person who passed the February bar that came from Baldwin Park. That's me." I paused again and my boxers clapped. Then the Councillors clapped.
"Our boxing program has been run down to shambles. We only need $1,500 a month to extend the hours. Nonetheless, we are grateful for what we have. I've brought gifts for you to thank you for the little you've given us."
Six of my boxers, against protocol, crossed the Council area and gave a poster to each of the Councillors and Mayor. I left it at that. The management team, those who represent the King's court, didn't look too pleased with the boy in boxing shorts.
The mayor then chimed in and said, "I love the boxing program. I met Oscar de la Hoya in it long time ago." He went on and defended himself and how he was going to support the program. Then he said the golden promise, "This isn't the time to discuss the boxing program. It's the public comments period. But I will meet with you. I promise."
"Are you telling me, Mayor," I said, "That you promise me on record for a meeting."
"Yes, Paul. I will meet with you. You will get back your Thursday."
But then the Matron Councillor retorted, "I disagree with the mayor. We cannot give you back your Thursday, Mr. - Mr. - Mr. -"
"- Mr. Cook," I replied back.
"If we give you back your Thursday," she said, "then the swimmers and the basketball team could also ask for money. We're just not going to do it. You're lucky to have a boxing program in place."
I tried to utter some words but she said, "HEY YOU'RE BEING DISRESPECTFUL. I listened to you when you -"
"I defer to you," I said.
"-spoke. So listen to-"
The mayor came back in and said, "You know this is public comment's period. We'll have to discuss this later. You're only supposed to get three minutes anyways. We've gone way over. We will meet, Paul."
"If I may just say one thing. $1,500 is the cheapest amount you'll ever spend to keep kids off the street and to keep kids off of drugs. The City lingo is always to be preventive and not reactive." This awakened the management team. I knew the lingo consultants always pitched to them. Word such as: preventative, proactive, and reactionary.
I started again: "This is as preventive of a program that you can get. It's better than having them already going through the system and having a record, and now I have to deal with it to clean it up so people can get jobs."
The Matron came back and said, "Every program can make the claims you're talking about. Aquatics. Basketball. So we're just not going to increase the boxing budget. You're lucky to have your boxing program."
At that point, I thought to myself, You don't get boxing. Boxing gets the bad kids and the street kids. The coaches give their lives to discipline and train them in a way that her pet program swimming can't.
The Mayor asked the director what was going to be done.
The director refused to respond. The Mayor said, "That's enough. We've went way over your speaking time, Paul. We'll meet, as I said."
I said what I needed. I grabbed the hand of the little boy and was ready to walk back with the two other kids, when Councillor of the minority faction said, "I wanted to thank you all for coming to us today." She reminded me of Paula Abdul from American Idol. "I know public speaking is so hard. And even that little boy did it. It's a really difficult skill. So, I'm proud of all of you for bringing this to our attention. And we would welcome you all back sometime." While she was speaking, I turned around with the kids and stood at the podium. I nodded, and said, "Thank you."
Another Councillor said, "I met with Paul. I wanted to thank him for his efforts today. We're working on ways to raise money for the boxing program."
I thanked him.
This forced the last Councillor, who was also the Mayor Pro Tem to speak. She thanked me for coming back to Baldwin Park and my accomplishments, although she had to mention that Baldwin Park had a terrible reputation for creating successful people.
I finally took the kids and the boxers to the back of the room. Before exiting, the bailiff grabbed me and said, "Paul, before you leave you need to see me."
I told him, "Ok, but let me talk to my boxers first."
Outside, there was this great sense of victory and empowerment. I told my boxers, "You all did very well. But I want to let you know this is the start, not the end. We have to keep on going." They left proud with their heads held up high.
I went to see the bailiff, who had information for me. He even gave me a hug, and I was shocked.
Now to my faithful readers:Join our cause! Spread the word of the BP Boxing Club's Fight against the City of Baldwin Park.
Updated on 8/11/2013:
This is the blog post that started off the viral journey. Since then, the Director has done nothing for our program. The Mayor lied and didn't meet with me The boxers went back to City Hall. Read about it here. The Boxing Rematch Against the City