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Oakland youth boxing program an oasis for kids traumatized by violence

Oakland youth boxing program an oasis for kids traumatized by violence
Oakland youth boxing program an oasis for kids traumatized by violence 03:50

OAKLAND -- Following the recent surge in violent incidents involving Bay Area kids, KPIX got some perspective from a 7th grader about what's going on.

There's been a lot of talk recently about juvenile student violence in the wake of incidents like the beatings caught on cell phone video at the Stonestown Galleria in San Francisco and multiple stabbings at schools across the Bay Area.

While parents and local leaders are trying to figure out the root of the issue, a group in Oakland is trying to re-direct that energy into a more productive and healthy arena.

13-year-old Ernesto Alvarado should have been getting geared up to do his favorite thing: boxing. When we spoke with him Wednesday, he was trying to keep his hands from shaking.

"Everybody was running. A lot of people were screaming. It was terrifying," he said. 

Oakland police say a fight broke out on 98th Avenue just outside Ernesto's school. Witnesses said some of the people involved had guns.

"They announced that there was going to be a lockdown. I stayed locked in my classroom. And then a bunch of kids kept running inside other classrooms. And then some kids started running in the classroom I was in," Earnesto said. "It was terrifying, 'cause I heard somebody banging on my classroom door. So I got more scared cause I thought it was the person with the gun."

The suspects ran off before police got there. No arrests were made and a gun was never found on campus.

For Ernesto, this fear, anxiety and chaos at his school is nothing new.

"Almost every day, there's a lot of people fighting at school," he said. 

It's why he comes to the East Oakland Boxing Association.

"It helps me when I've got, like, anger. I can get it out when I'm doing boxing," he explained.

The East Oakland Boxing Association is an after school program that does more than just teach kids how to blow off steam in a healthy way. It's a place to keep them safe.

They can come here for help with homework, a healthy meal and escape from reality. Tonya Allen is the program's executive director. 

"We sit on 98, in this deep area of East Oakland. There is a lot of violence, a lot of home insecurities, food insecurity. And our students are suffering from that," Allen said. "When they come here, they know that they are not going to be bullied. They know that they're not going to be threatened. No gang affiliations when they are in this four-block radius."

Allen has seen the violence among young kids in her community increase dramatically this past year.

"I won't put it all on COVID. But I will tell you this: being home for two years and not able to socialize with other students, when you're out and about and begin to have that freedom again, sometimes it starts off as horseplay and it expands," said Allen.

Ernesto has seen it first hand.

"I think it's 'cause of all the things that are happening in people's lives. People just can't take it. They harm other people so they don't feel harm; so they don't feel hurt. They hurt other people," said Earnesto.

Ernesto is only in 7th grade, but he has already seen more violence than any child should.

The East Oakland Boxing Association is one of several after school programs in the area. The school district provides them as well, but its not enough to accommodate the number of students.

The program relies solely on grants and donations to keep it going, but these safe places are essential to help keep kids out of trouble. 

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