LEVEL GROUND MIXED MARTIAL ARTS
JJCML: Why and How did you it started with the project?
Ali : I started Level Ground Mixed Martial Arts in July, 2013 in a part of Boston (Roxbury) that experiences the highest level of poverty in the city.The dream of creating a BJJ program to empower urban youth is one that has been on my heart from Day 1 of stepping onto the mat.I want to use Level Ground to unleash the power and strength of our students so that they will fight for and seize their dreams despite the odds.
I started Level Ground with my good friend and training partner, Hudson Henriques, who serves as the head instructor of our program.We have partnered with the YMCA to open our first site, and will be launching our second site in the second week of December.Our dream is to have an MMA studio in the heart of the inner city where youth can have access to premier sports, life skills, and academic programming.
JJCML: What are your objective with the project?
Ali : My objectives are two-fold.First, it is to use MMA as a vehicle to encourage our youth to apply the same values and principles that they learn on the mat toward school, work, relationships, etc.We couple our MMA training program with a weekly Life Skills program where they engage in a structured curriculum that includes everything from nutrition to financial literacy.We also support their academic and career advancement through monthly college tours and personalized support on their studies, college applications, etc.
My second objective is to leverage MMA to craft an environment where our youth are loved and supported both by us and each other.MMA, and BJJ in particular, has such a unique ability to form the most unlikely and lasting friendships, and that is something that I want to harness to create a climate of love and respect.We do not hesitate to tell our students how much we love them or to welcome them into our homes on the weekend.I get phone calls and texts from students at all hours who just need advice or encouragement.It’s awesome.I firmly believe these relationships will be the true catalyst for social change, and I invite everyone from the BJJ community to be a part of this change.
JJCML: How important is the support of family and friends?
Ali: The support of family and friends is everything to us.Once again, the culture of family is what Level Ground is defined by, and that is fueled by involving our own friends and family.For instance, our training partners have donated everything from water bottles, to gis and rash guards, to white belts for our students.Our school, Brazilian Top Team Boston - headed by Joao and Bruno Amaral - has embraced our program with open arms by welcoming students to train in regular classes.Additionally, on a weekly basis, we have at least one of our training partners as a guest at Level Ground.They have hosted boxing, MMA, and BJJ clinics, and serve as mentors to our youth.Additionally, over a dozen friends from my church (Hub Church Boston) have been involved.One of them runs the life skills portion of our program, and another spearheads our college readiness component.Others have served by making dinner for our youth, creating databases, transporting mats, and taking photos.Hub Church is actually funding mats for our new location, and is sponsoring our holiday party.It is beautiful because there is a place for everyone at Level Ground.We create an opportunity to not only help change lives, but be changed in the process by giving of oneself.
JJCML: In your opinion, what is the importance of the martial arts to improve the quality of life of the urban youth?
Ali : Our students face incredible barriers (overexposure to violence, poverty, and lack of access to education) that tell them that their dreams are impossible to reach.MMA inherently instills a spirit of resilience, tenacity, discipline, and self-control to the martial artist, which we tap in to so that our students will level every barrier that stands in their way.So many people buy into the notion that the young people we serve are unmotivated or incapable of being great.They only see gang-bangers or high school drop-outs or “at-risk” youth.We see young people whose brilliance simply needs to be unleashed.We see leaders.MMA allows our students to see themselves that way, and then to apply this identity to all aspects of life.
JJCML: How this project affected the Roxbury community?
Ali : Level Ground serves as a unifying force for the students in our community.Our students include talented, prodigy athletes and youth that have never played sports or have been the victims of bullying.As we all know, the mat is a beautiful equalizer.On the mat, bullies are humbled and the socially awkward are empowered.Our students not only become friends, but become brothers and sisters who support each other both on and off the mat.They also have genuinely fallen in love with the sport.We literally have to kick them out of the gym at 10 pm otherwise they would keep on rolling until midnight.A few weeks ago we had a movie night for them, thinking that they would appreciate just chilling out together.They watched the movie for a grand total of 3 minutes before returning to the mats to spend the rest of the night rolling.Their motivation and passion is an example to us all.
To get involved with Level Ground, please personally contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 410-533-2210.Please Like and Share our work on Facebook, and consider supporting us financially or through donations of apparel or equipment.Jiu Jitsu has changed all over our lives.Let’s pay it forward by using it for social change.Oss!