The Allentown Boxing Gym's youth program began in 2009 to offer kids in poor neighborhoods an alternative to hanging out on the streets of the Pennsylvania city.
The gym reaches about 125 young people, ages 6 and up. “The gym is like a second home for the kids,” said Luis Melendez, the gym’s founder and co-owner. “Our main focus is to get them off the streets, to make sure they spend more time in the gym than in the street.”
Getty photographer Spencer Platt discovered the gym when searching for unusual economy stories. “Like many photographers, I mistakenly sought the exotic while too often failing to look in my own backyard,” Platt said. “It slowly dawned on me that the economic stagnation of America is one of the most significant stories of my life.”
He added, “I believe with all of the negative news we often receive about urban America, stories like the Allentown Boxing Gym can inspire others to volunteer or start similar programs. The gym, which stands at a busy intersection, comes alive with the city as the afternoon progresses.”
While youths come to the gym for boxing, they also can get help with homework and learn ways to deal with emotional issues. “The kids are no longer in the street messing around,” Melendez said. “They are in the gym looking for a future.”
Platt said he hopes his images will help viewers question their assumptions about urban America, poverty and youth.
“My fear is that as cities across America begin to inflict massive budget cuts, programs like the Allentown Boxing Gym will slip through the cracks and leave many young and financially struggling teens with little choices to vent their energy,” Platt said.
- Angie Walton, CNN