Fighting for youth through boxing and books



EmBossed 3D

As Featured In:

INNOVATE® Washington DMV Edition

In establishing Midtown Youth Academy in 1977, Golden Gloves champ Eugene “Thunder” Hughes began with a make-shift boxing ring and a noble goal: draw at-risk youth away from the mean and drug-infested streets of Washington, D.C., and guide them to a successful path in life.

“We let them knock themselves out in the gym,” he would say. “After they get that frustration out of them, we work with their minds.”

Coach: Charles Price

That vision – call it boxing and books – has stood the test of time. Over four decades, Midtown has served as a community sanctuary, training the bodies and minds of thousands of teenagers in the District’s urban core.

Walking through the doors of Midtown, learning what makes a champion in the ring, at school, and in life are not disconnected. They all require discipline, grit and hard work – plus a lot of support and encouragement from adult mentors.

From the early days, Hughes and his coworkers partnered with community leaders and recruited volunteers to invest in the future of young people. They helped give instruction, not only in boxing but also an array of after-school, weekend and summer activities, including tutoring, music lessons and even sewing instruction.

Among its notable successes, Midtown counts boxing champions Sugar Ray Leonard and former Richmond Police Chief Marty Tapscott as its alumni. Below the radar, countless others who signed up with Midtown went on to complete high school and beyond, despite formidable economic and social challenges.

“I was out on the street, didn’t know which way to go, selling nickel bags up here on 14th and Chapin,” Glenn Jordan said of his youth during a 2017 radio interview. But he recalled how he and a buddy then found their way to Midtown. “I could hear the punching bag and Gene’s voice… I stayed.” Today, Jordan is a city transit employee.

Founder: Eugene “Thunder” Hughes

For most of its existence, Midtown was based in the so-called 14th Street corridor in an old rowhouse. But as that area gentrified and its two-story facility needed extensive repairs, Midtown moved during the pandemic to a new neighborhood in the District, which has pressing needs and four times the number of youth than in Midtown’s previous location.

According to Census Bureau zip code data, Midtown’s new community is home to more than 67,300, nearly one-fourth under the age of 20. The area is rich in diversity – Blacks and Latinos comprise about 75% of the population, many of them immigrants. One out of seven children are living in homes under the federal poverty line.

Midtown’s strategy, though, remains the same: Use boxing and the gym as a vehicle to attract and engage with youth, and keep them off the streets by providing a rich platform of innovative activities that will be life transforming.

Board of Directors: Darien Headen, Alex Shaw, Khalia Jackson, Ronald Simms, Gloria Lee, Patrick Kibbe

Midtown’s academic offerings align with the sport of boxing under a T.E.A.M. concept, including Tutoring, Entrepreneurship, Arts and Technology, and Mentorship, along with legislative advocacy and other practical skills.

Then there’s boxing of course. It may be an individual sport but takes a TEAM to be successful. Midtown’s experienced trainer provides personalized programs for each boy and girl, whether the prize is to win a Golden Gloves tournament, to build endurance or just to stay out of trouble.

As Hughes, who passed away in 2018 once said, “In order to break the pattern and to enable young men to develop self-discipline and goal oriented activities, I recruited the sons of several narcotics addicts to become my boxing team. Boxing is a discipline that encourages respecting the body as a Temple.”

Today, Midtown is managed by Gloria Lee, who volunteered at the gym and assisted with the after-school programming for 20 years before becoming the executive director.

Other INNOVATE® Ecosystems