Jamyle Cannon owns and operates a nonprofit boxing program for kids on the West Side, but his focus isn’t on the boxing that takes place.
As a former national championship-level boxer himself, he’s more than qualified to teach the skills that they need to be successful in the ring, but he uses the ring to teach them more about what they need to be successful in life.
“If you’re a kid on the West Side of Chicago and I walk up to you and say, ‘Hey, do you come to a mentor and tutor?’ the answer is typically, ‘No,’” he said. “But if I were to approach you and say, ‘Are you interested in joining a boxing program?’ that answer is much more likely to be ‘Yes’ … We bring in young people with boxing at our core and use that as a springboard to get them into positive resources and outlets and provide any assistance that they might need.”
The Bloc serves kids as young as eight, running all the way up through seniors in high school. Anyone who walks in the doors is accepted. From there, each has access to a place to study, tutoring and mentoring with the sole goal of their success in mind. The surrounding community, Cannon said, has a high school graduation rate of 38 percent. Every single kid who has come through his program, though, has graduated high school and been accepted into college.
“I think it all speaks to the level of excellence that young people can reach when we just give them the resources that they need to excel,” he said. “There are so many kids with a ton of potential on the West Side of Chicago that just don’t have the pieces that they need to reach that potential. We’re not making them better people, necessarily, we’re just giving them the tools that they need so that they can reach their best selves.”
“We work with awesome kids,” he added. “They come to us excellent, but it’s hard to express that excellence if you’re not getting three square meals a day, if you don’t have a place to take out your anger or aggression or if you haven’t learned how to take out your anger and aggression positively. It’s hard to express that excellence if they don’t have a caring adult to go to to talk about some of the things that are going on in their lives or they don’t have a safe place to be. Regardless of what it is that drives a kid here, we want to meet them where they are so we can help propel them to their successful futures.”
Cannon knows the profound change the outlet and escape of sports can drive in a kid’s life because he’s experienced it first-hand.
“I grew up as a kid who just loved a good fight. I had a hard time turning down a fight,” he said. “I was arrested as a young kid. I was suspended from school for fighting. It was a struggle in my life because I had anger that was built up from some of the things that had happened in my own childhood. Getting into sports is what really helped me channel that. Boxing, in particular, gave me a way to express myself that I had never received before.”
He after a rotator cuff injury ended his competitive career, he became a teacher with Teach for America. He got his Master’s Degree in secondary education, moved to Chicago and helped open DRW College Prep. It was there where Cannon said he saw kids who had been rejected from other opportunities that he knew needed help.
“So many kids in our school that just didn’t have any connection to the school. They’d been rejected from so many possible outlets,” he said. “They didn’t have the grades, behavior or skill to be on the basketball team, and because they were cut from that opportunity, it cut them off from the relationships that would help them build the grades, behavior and the skill. To capture some of those kids, I started teaching some of them (boxing) in my classroom and it just grew and grew and grew from 12 kids to 20, to 40, to 80 kids until we realized that we needed to start a non-profit to support it.”
From there, The Bloc was born, and has been serving kids on the West Side since 2016.
“I’m thinking about a kid who I went and picked up one Saturday morning and his whole block was taped off with police tape,” Cannon said. “He told me that that morning there was a shooting and he looked out his window and he saw his friend running down the alley with a gun. He said, ‘If it hadn’t been for boxing, I would’ve been with him.’
“We not only gave him something that kept him off the streets, but that kid became the first person in his family to go to college. He wants to make a positive impact in his community. The idea that we didn’t just get him off the streets, but we helped turn him on to something that’s going to make his life better in the long run, I think it’s the most rewarding aspect of it.”
Learn more about A Better Chicago and the Chicago Blackhawks Foundation’s One West Side initiative: Blackhawks.com/OneWestSide