Taking a swing at gun violence

Since May, junior Gabe Ford has been cultivating his boxing skills for the upcoming Golden Gloves boxing tournament this March. The tournament dually serves as a fundraiser to provide aid to those impacted by gun violence and an opportunity for local boxers, and Ford aims to take home the gold.

Throughout his life, Ford has had to navigate the conflict and strife of gun violence, losing family and friends of his own along the way. Growing up on the West Side of Chicago, Ford said gun violence was always present. He said even if the conflict wasn’t between civilians, it often involved police. “It’s different from seeing it on the news, actually seeing it, and having family go that way,” said Ford. “I always try my best to stay away from it.”

Despite the violence in his life, Ford said he, as the youngest child in his family, had a lot of excitement and not very many problems in his younger years.

From a young age, Ford said he has always wanted to be a boxer, but the conditions of his neighborhood prevented him from pursuing that. His older brother, Jerome, went to a boxing gym in the neighborhood and would teach him some moves whenever he went. Ford also would watch videos of older boxing matches. He often watched videos of Mike Tyson, Muhammed Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson and Ray Leonard.

“Muhammed Ali, I liked to watch him because he had a lot of technique. Not only was he involved in boxing, he was involved in activist groups,” said Ford. “I liked his confidence; the way he talked. You could tell he was full of joy. He also rhymed his words, like, he was very poetic.”

Ford moved with his family to Oak Park when he was in elementary school and eventually enrolled in Oak Park and River Forest High School.

His family and friends all support his boxing in their own way, Ford explained. Some of his family “still view me as their little boy, so they’re a little on edge about it,” he said. “But, my brothers, my dad, and my friends all say ‘Go for it.’ It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, so it’s crazy that it’s actually happening.” he said.

“When friends and family show up, it’s the best feeling in the world,” he added. “That makes me build up confidence and, like, it builds up everything. It’s the best because you’re really coming to watch me fight, so you show up, I show out, I always say.”

Ford was introduced to boxing by his teacher Anthony Clark, a history and special education teacher at OPRF, and an active member of the Oak Park community known for being a social activist. Ford’s older brother, Antoine, was a student of Clark’s, which is how they met.

“He’s an extremely sweet and caring young man,” Clark said, of Gabe Ford. He described Ford as someone who is “very introspective and reflects a lot. He, from my perspective, is a young individual that really wants to identify various ways to collaboratively have an impact on society and make a difference.”

John Terretta, a special education math teacher, assistant baseball coach at OPRF and a former teacher of Ford, said he admires “Gabe’s compassion for others. He is always willing to help students who are struggling with an issue.” Terretta also noted Gabe’s popularity and respect among students and faculty: “He has a lot of respect around OPRF because of his kindness towards others and his great personality,” Terretta said.

In regards to the tournament, Ford is eager to win. Even if he loses, he said, “that’s okay, too, because I’m still fighting behind a bigger reason. If we raise this money, that’d be really nice, because we’re spreading this message against gun violence.”

Gun related homicides in Cook County have increased over the last couple years, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office, reaching over a thousand cases in 2021. Students at OPRF, unfortunately, are not exempt from the impact of this violence.

In May of last school year, a student was intercepted walking to the school with a handgun in his backpack. The student, now alumnus, Keyon Robinson, did not intend to harm anyone and was released on bond, according to a Washington Post article.

A month after the incident with Robinson, and having just graduated from OPRF, Jailyn Logan-Bledsoe was shot and killed at a gas station not even a mile away from the school on Chicago Avenue. Her assailants, siblings Kenneth Elliott and Adrianna Vanzant, have since been caught and charged with first-degree murder, police said. In response, OPRF offered grief counseling to those who wanted it.

Outside of boxing, Ford is a member of the Revolutionary Oak Park Youth Action League (ROYAL), a social justice organization in Oak Park. Logan-Bledsoe was one of its members.

Introduced to ROYAL by his older brother, Ford said he joined when he was in seventh grade.

He was hesitant about the group at first, worried it wouldn’t amount to anything more than a conversation. However, “once I got in there, it’s like everybody became family. In middle school, I remember, there was this painting in the lunchroom. Oak Park is supposed to be diverse, but the painting had all white people on it, and we got that taken down. We then got to do a lot of big protests,” he said.

Ford hopes he can continue to make a difference through boxing.

As a professional boxer, Ford said he would hope to participate in many more fundraisers and use the money he makes to donate to charity organizations and those close to him who might need it. “I always wanted to feed the homeless. I always give anything I have in my pocket to a homeless person. I feel like you do good things, receive good things,” said Ford.