In 2008, photojournalist Anthony Suau began documenting how predatory lending and foreclosures were affecting Cleveland. A photo from his project won the World Press Photo contest in 2009.
Winning the contest opened doors for him to meet boxing coach Fred Wilson, a blue-collar worker striving to make a difference for the at-risk youth in his neighborhood.
“Coach Fred stood out as a pinnacle in the middle of a very dangerous area,” Suau said.
Whenever Wilson saw drugs being sold in front of his house, he would scare the customers away. The father of five confronted one seller and the “kid,” as Wilson refers to him in Suau’s film “Fighting Back,” apologized. He saw “some hope in that kid” and began teaching him to box in his basement.
Through word of mouth, the training expanded from a couple guys to something Wilson’s basement couldn’t handle. The team began meeting at the local YMCA.
“(Wilson) and the boxers are dedicated,” Suau said. It’s “a surprising dedication to make it work among the poverty and violence.”
As he continued taking pictures, Suau fell in love with the kids. He believes many of them just need guidance and direction to do the right thing. And while they may be very playful at times, it’s serious business once they’re in the ring.
Suau, president and co-founder of the photography and journalism collective Facing Change, focused his lens on boxer Deloren Grey, who won his division at the Ohio State Fair tournament in July.
Grey lives in a bad part of town, and photographing him in the courtyard was dangerous, Suau said. But that’s the life many of these boxers lead growing up in unsafe neighborhoods. Wilson lost one of his students to gunshots near the boxer’s house.
Suau sees the value of Coach Fred’s efforts to keep the youth off the streets.
“He could really save some kids, save some lives,” Suau said. “People have hopes and dreams of getting out somehow. Boxing may be a way to get out.”
- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN