"Men must endure their going hence." Shakespeare, King Lear.
This isn't my story. It's the story about the head boxing coach of the boxing gym.
I met the head boxing coach, Julian "The Powerhouse" Casas in the winter of 2012. I had just failed the bar, and I knew that I needed to get back off my feet. The last time I was living in a mental hell was in my New Zealand winter. Judo brought me out of that. I thought the American Martial Art of boxing would bring me out of my own self-pity.
Julian didn't originally train me. Actually, at first, my boxing was so terrible none of the coaches thought I'd come back. I couldn't bob right because my muscles weren't used to it. I looked funny and stupid. And by the way I was 30.
But "men must endure their going hence." And I kept at it. I kept on the mental training of boxing, and eventually, when they saw I was serious, Julian took me seriously. The bond between the coach and the trainee began.
When I first met Julian, he was tired of the boxing job. He loved training the kids and the teenagers, but I didn't actually know how terrible his situation was. I don't think he knew either because of how long he was steeped in it. Although he was there for fourteen years, he didn't put his all into the boxing program in that winter of 2012-2013 because there was no more hope for it. That December, Director Carrillo had just cut a day from our program. It was now open Monday through Wednesday. In the heyday of the boxing club, the gym was open Monday through Saturday. Now, it was running on 50% of its original time.
I didn't know what to make of the head boxing coach, but I did notice one thing. He cared about the kids. Most of the kids in the boxing programs come from rough backgrounds. As the Chinese say, "You never know what happens behind closed doors." Well, I'll tell you the sad reality of what happens. Fathers leave homes. Fathers get drunk. Fathers beat their children and their girlfriends or wives. Uncles molest kids. And as hard as this is to read, this happens all the time in Baldwin Park.
Then you get angry youth. So many gangster fathers drop their kids off at the boxing program because they want their kids to be mean little fighters. I always feel sorry for the kids that really don't have it in them, because they're too thin or weak or not confident, to be a fighter. Other parents bring in their kids because they get into too many street fights, and the parents have lost control of them.
This is what Julian has to work with. So - he does his best. On his own money, he drives the kids to the mountains to go running. On his own funds, he buys them boxing equipment, like gloves, headgear, and mouthpieces. Why? Because they can't afford it. He did this in silence, without telling others, for fourteen years.
Even for me, Julian rode out with me to the West Side of Los Angeles after an exhausting day of work. He didn't want to go because he was tired. We ate pizza together in the West Side. We shared a beer. He gave me a hug and wished me luck. He even called me two days later to ask how everything was going.
So, when he met me, he had given up hope on the program because he believed in the propaganda the director was always saying: "There's no money." I also noticed he was terrified about ever challenging such decisions. Immediately, I noticed there was instilled in the staff a culture of terror and fear. Culture is like pornography in some sense. Everyone recognizes what they see, but it can't really be explained in words. And I certainly saw this culture of fear, but it would be much later why I would understand the reasons it existed.
Julian kept telling me in the spring of 2013 that it was time for him to leave. Usually, I would support such a decision, but I knew it was not the right one. I told him to stay. That the kids needed him and after our fundraising efforts that things would be better. He didn't believe me because Baldwin Park's Parks and Recreation was run regimented. Either you were in favor or you weren't. Boxing wasn't in favor.
But Julian and all of us did the amazing photo shoot in which our posters were based on. That showed him that things could be different.
He noticed that the director did seem sincere in helping our boxing program. Sponsors genuinely wanted to give us money. In the frozen world of hopelessness at our boxing gym, spring was coming.
I was disappointed and frustrated so often at Julian. Although he had a good heart, the years of the cultural fears had paralyzed the head boxing coach for standing up for himself, the program, and the kids. I shouted at him once for not taking things seriously enough. I had to apologize. But I only wanted to see change, and I wanted to see it.
He coached me in boxing. I coached him in terms of another fighting.
Over time, he took on the role of taking charge of the gym and doing what was right with it.
The fear still overran him when the boxers spoke out at City Hall. But after he saw the children, the boxers, and myself speak out and talk about how destroyed our boxing program was, he had hope. He was inspired. And he realized that to stand up and tell the truth was something he wanted to do, regardless of the potential of retaliation. And if you read the last blog post - the retaliation did come. He came to the decision - I need to do the right thing. I need to stand up. I need to be an example.
On day nine of the Boxers' Blitz, although not directly organized by the boxers, the part time staff at parks and recreation followed the boxers and went to City Hall. The staff went to City Hall because under the direction of the City Manager Vijay Singhal and the Director Carrillo, the City was going to cut all their hours, so they wouldn't qualify for Obama Care. One of the staff intercepted the secret email and showed all the part time staff.
The director that day had gotten word of the staff uprising and called emergency meetings at 3pm to try to stop it. He threatened. He told lies about how the budgets would be cut again. Although a few backed down, eight staff still went and spoke the truth. They were the salt and light of the workers. Julian was one of them.
The head boxing coach went without the support of the boxers. All the staff were scared to speak. But he had made his decision. The truth had to be told. Of the staff, he spoke first.
He said, "Councillors and Mayor, I'm here today to address the inequalities in parks and recreation. I'm Julian Casas, and I live in Baldwin Park. I have my roots in Baldwin Park. I'm not into politics. I try to avoid it when I can. But the time has come for me to not avoid it because I found out about inequalities and injustices that need to be made right. I've been working here for 14 years. But I found out that a 17 year old, the daughter of Marlen Garcia Council Member, gets hired at parks and recreation. Even after 14 years, I get paid $8 an hour. She makes $10.36 an hour. That's a slap in the face.
"It doesn't just stop there. Even her high school friends get hired. I work another 15 years here, and I still wouldn't make as much as an inexperienced lifeguard. The truth is I gave up on seeing a pay increase a long time ago. But I investigated the budget.
"You see the inequality. Aquatics gets $200,000. Boxing only gets $30,000. But they always tell us we don't have any money. But according to Marlen Garcia, Boxing is entertainment. Whenever the swim team asks for money - they got it at our expense. It's obvious that Garcia likes the program because her children benefit from it.
"Also, everyone in management is from the swim team. There's no one from boxing. In fact, the only way to move up in management is to either be related or be friends with those in aquatics management. Take for instance the fact that Armando's wife got promoted over someone who had a degree and was more qualified. Recently Armando's wife's shopping friend got promoted too over those who have been there longer. Did you know that husband and wife can't work in the same department under the government code?
"You know how they say they have no money. All Director Carrillo has to do is take a pay cut. He makes $160,000-$180,000 a year. He gets a cafe budget of $1,200 a month. That's $14,400 a year. No corporation does this for their management, except for Google who expects you to work 12-14 hours a day. By the way, the concillors, mayors, and management team all bought themselves iPads. But there's no money for the boxing staff or the boxing club."
At that point Julian was cut off by the mayor. What he also wanted to say was, I'm not sure how this is possible. Because there's 'allegedly' a formal HR process, even for the hiring of Marlen's daughter. But it seems everything is bypassed because the HR Manager, Marlen, and Director Carrillo all have an informal, closed meeting, to sort everything out. Nonetheless, he was heard. The mayor met with him later, but didn't do anything to increase his pay.
When I heard the audio stream on Julian's speech, I nearly wept. When you care about someone that does good and never talks about the abuses heaped on him, how can you not?
During the spring of 2013, I saw Julian sort out an 18 year old who was hitting on one of the girl boxers, who was underage. I saw him sort out staff. He fought bravely in meetings with the director at the boxing program, and he's even sorted out his own staff and other volunteer coaches who were causing problems. Julian's changed and he's risen to the occasion. I just find it sad that he gets paid $8 an hour. Ask yourself, does a head boxing coach, who's been there for fourteen years for the love of the job and with these skills deserve such a pay when the director of the program makes $180,000 a year?
I was most proud of Julian when I sat with him last night. He talked to someone about our fight for the boxing program. He told her, "Before I met Paul, I was ready to leave. But now, I'm here to stay. We're working hard. We're doing all this because it's the right thing to do."
When I heard those words, I felt moved. That's right: we're here to do the right thing. Remember: "Men must endure their going hence."
So this is a tribute to the head boxing coach, Julian Casas.
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Updated on 8/13/2013
Julian Cases received a stellar performance review. After 14 years of service, he's received a forty cent raise.