Stories from the Mat - The Power of Genuine Relationships as a Vehicle for Social Change

Melanie is a student from Level Ground MMA ( http://www.levelgroundmma.com )

More and more organizations are using sports as a vehicle for social change.  This is incredible and we applaud this rising trend, but, you may wonder, what makes Level Ground so unique?

While we differentiate ourselves in large part through our holistic model by providing mentorship, academic advancement, and youth employment to the students we serve, it is the culture that really serves as the 'magic' of Level Ground.

While many organizations seek to serve as many youth as possible (let's be real...in large part to impress funders), we delve deep and create raw, authentic, and truly lasting relationships with our students.  We are unapologetic in our approach: in order to best serve the unique individuals they are, we must get to know them and appreciate them individually.  By doing so, we earn the RIGHT to challenge them beyond their limits, both on and off that mat.  We can then help them create a plan for success specifically tailored to their unique story, personality, and dreams.  In doing so, we create a culture where each individual is cherished...no censors, no filters, no socially-constructed parameters that reduce human beings to mere metrics and data.

This takes time and energy, and may mean that we never serve 1000 kids annually.  However, what we yearn for...and what we're proving...is that this approach results in change of the most genuine, beautiful, and sustainable in nature.

Don't take my word for it though - check out a speech presented by one of our students to her college class a couple of weeks ago.  In it she describes the relationship between her and myself, and the tremendous impact it has had on her.  I can say with confidence that this is the story of all of our students in relation to all of our amazing, passionate instructors and volunteers.  I will also add that they have impacted and changed our lives just as deeply.  Thank you, Melanie, for changing mine.

Vector Jiu Jitsu

Photo : Personal archives

Photo : Personal archives

My name is Beth Thrasher and I began training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in 2006 in the Buffalo/Niagara region while going to medical school.  My husband began a year earlier, half a nation away in Mississippi.  Leaving medicine to become a math teacher in Jackson, MS was the greatest decision of my life.  That decision put me on a path to meet my loving soul-mate and found a youth program together that has changed more than just our lives for the better.  Experience a week in the life of managing Vector Jiu-Jitsu….  Scramble to find housing for an evicted child and their family, a young person asks sheepishly for food as practice winds down because there won’t be any at home, become a frontline counselor for a victim of sexual abuse who has an emotional breakdown, drop off another student to the seedy motel where their family is staying, do laundry at your own home for a family that does not have the means, have your best student run bear crawls to atone for their disappointing decision-making on social media, make a home visit for a child who has been absent from school FAR too many times, convince a panicking young man to stay in school because a job at 18 yrs old with no diploma will NOT solve their family’s woes, and oh yeah, you train a bunch of teenagers in a little Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. 

At the end of each training session, right before bow-out, the students of Vector Jiu-Jitsu shout the program motto:  “KNOW YOURSELF, BETTER YOURSELF,  and HELP OTHERS!” between cleansing breaths.  These are more than words, they are an expectation.  The goal of Vector Jiu-Jitsu is to instill in each child a desire to become a better version of themselves every day.  Jiu-Jitsu training teaches them self-control and stress management while community service requirements teach them that it’s a lifelong responsibility to give of oneself.

Vector Jiu-Jitsu operates out of one of the lowest performing high schools in the country.  Its students’ neighborhoods are plagued by generational poverty, gang violence, crime and overall malaise.  It is an after-school youth development program run by my husband Chris Thrasher and myself.  Both he and I discovered BJJ at the lowest points in our lives.  Training in BJJ both saved us and brought us together.  We founded Vector Jiu-Jitsu under the premise that it could do the same for the disadvantaged children of Jackson, Mississippi.  

In less than two years, Vector Jiu-Jitsu has saved 3 boys from dropping out of high-school, helped 2 students lose 50 pounds, improved the academics of ALL regular participants, been commended by City Council, hosted 4 jiu-jitsu tournaments at a high school that had never heard of the art, traveled to 3 out-of-town tournaments and cultivated dozens of meaningful relationships with children in desperate need of caring mentors.  Over 150 kids have graced our mats and we’ve considered 50 as “regular” participants.  At any one time we have approximately 20-25 students on our roster.  Children in Jackson move around often, and our program is (presently) only available to those who attend Wingfield High School, so many of our students have had to stop training due to a change in living situation.  

Vector Jiu-Jitsu is a 501c3 non-profit charity that seeks to expand and obtain an independent facility, where children of all ages, from all over the city can get bused after school and receive both physical training and academic tutoring or college and career counseling. 

Until now, the program has been a sort of “mom-n-pop” operation, subsisting on donations made by generous private citizens and our own meager funds.  But we now seek major corporate sponsorship and/or grant-writing assistance.  Such funds will be used to open locations all over the state where students who’ve apprenticed with us for years may enter a newly created job field, managing expansion Vector Jiu-Jitsu programs.

If you would like to donate, there is a paypal link at our website:

www.vectorjiujitsu.com

And if you’d like to follow our students’ struggles and successes, you can “SHARE” and “LIKE” our facebook page:

www.facebook.com/vectorjiujitsu

We’d like to thank the following people for helping Vector Jiu-Jitsu positively impact the lives of young underprivileged youth.  

Army JROTC Parent Boosters – donating $1500 so we could buy mats to start!

Da Firma Kimono Company

Furia Jiu-Jitsu Sports

Kelly Leo & Green Lion Screenprinting

Robert Finlayson

Marion Jones

Mayor Tony Yarber

Seth Fuller

Houston Cottrell and Family

Rebecca & Jeremie Smith

Jessica Dobbs & Jae MacIntosh

Michael LaBorde

Stephen Markert

Chance Sheppard
Gracie South JJ

No Limit JJ

Joe Savoian and AFCBJJ

Anyone who has ever donated a DIME of your hard earned money,

And the countless people who’ve stopped by to meet and train with our kids!!

 

God bless and happy rolls, OSSSS!!!!  

 

-Beth Thrasher

Math Teacher, Wingfield High School

Co-Founder & Program Manager, Vector Jiu-Jitsu

bethklice@yahoo.com

601.941.5153


Alan "Finfou" -Recovery after injury at the Worlds 2014

This year during the Worlds, there was a moment that let everyone present at the Walter Pyramid worried. At the middleweight semifinal match , Alan “Finfou”  faced Otávio Sousa and after an omoplata attempt followed by an arm-bar by Otávio, Alan couldn’t get up and couldn’t feel his leg. Taken by ambulance to the hospital, Alan is recovering well. Check it out his interview below: