Mike Steadman founded Ironbound Boxing Gym (Sharpe James & Kenneth A. Gibson Recreation Center, 226 Rome Street, Newark) in February 2017. Photo by Kenneth Miles
Statesman and abolitionist Frederick Douglass is reported to have remarked that building strong children is easier than repairing broken men.
It’s a mantra the president of Ironbound Boxing Academy, Mike Steadman, lives by. Standing outside in front of the Kenneth Gibson and Sharpe James recreation center on 226 Rome Street in the Ironbound section of Newark, Steadman is eager to get inside of the gym to work with his protégées, who just finished running a few laps around the block.
“I wanted to create something impactful around boxing to help kids in rough environments that really needed help,” he said.
After leaving active duty from the U.S. Marines as an Infantry Officer in 2015, Steadman ran St. Benedict’s residence hall for three years before resigning to focus full time on running the Ironbound Boxing Academy, a non-profit organization that believes “for every step a kid takes, we take two steps towards them.”
The mission of Ironbound Boxing Academy is to motivate young men and women to improve their social and economic outcomes through boxing and personal branding. The academy was founded in February of 2017 in partnership with the City of Newark’s Department of Recreation and Cultural Affairs, which provides free space for Ironbound Boxing gym inside of the Kenneth Gibson and Sharpe James’ recreation center. The gym’s inspirational quotes and classic book titles written in colorful graffiti make it evident that Ironbound is interested in developing character as much as it is in developing jabs, uppercuts, and hooks.
The skills and life lessons Steadman instill in his trainees prepares them for life both in and outside the boxing ring. “I love Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man just because the concept of invincibility,” Steadman said, pointing towards the back of the boxing ring where the book’s title is spray painted across the wall. “The concept of projecting and not seeing you for who you are, just seeing you based off stereotypes,” he continued. “Like me for instance, a lot of people don’t know that I’m a Naval Academy graduate, because it doesn’t matter in Newark, people don’t care. So in Newark, I’m just like anybody else. I’m a 220-pound Black man walking the streets, and I have to be cognizant of that. I identify with the [Invisible Man], because people don’t know who you are and what you are capable of bringing to the table.”
Steadman, 31, who was raised in a single parent home by his mother, said he was surrounded by a community of strong Black men growing up in College Station, Texas. The men in Steadman’s church and neighborhood always looked out for him by offering guidance, wisdom, and even free haircuts when needed. Steadman knows how powerful a positive presence can be in a young person’s life, which is why he chose to live and work with youth in Newark.
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St. Benedict’s sophomore and aspiring boxing Olympian, Keith Colon has learned lessons both in and outside the ring training at Ironbound Boxing. “Boxing has taught me discipline,” Colon said. “I was always the shortest kid in the class and my dad knew that people were going to try me sooner or later, so he just threw me in [the gym] when I was seven or eight and started training me. Mike teaches me things that doesn’t deal with boxing, like every kid should have an option, [and] boxing shouldn’t be the only way out. You should have school, something to fall back on.”
After calling Newark home for a few years, Steadman, along with his business partners Keith Colon and Gary Bloore, are now trying to get a seat at the table with Newark’s business community to help further Ironbound’s mission. “We talk about more than boxing, but what does that look like for the kid? I would love for a kid to come here and train and be able to help them find employment somewhere. Ideally being able to employ them through the Ironbound brand teaching boxing at different businesses, bridging the gap between the business community and the local community. But even if they don’t work for Ironbound directly, Ironbound should be a layup for Prudential, Audible, PSE&G and some of the other corporate entities in Newark when they are looking to hire young men and women from the city.”
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The only fees required for joining Ironbound Boxing Academy are $5 a year for Newark residents and $15 for non-Newark residents, which allows access to the entire recreational center for the year. All members of Ironbound will eventually spar as part of their training, which requires a $65 registration fee with USA Boxing. Steadman relies on donations and volunteers to run the facility, which is open from Monday to Saturday.
Recently, Irobound Boxing announced a partnership with Everlast Worlwide to outfit the gym and launch co-branded boxing gear with the proceeds to benefit Ironbound Boxing Academy. “We are unbelievably excited to partner with Ironbound,” said Chris Zoller, Vice President of Marketing at Everlast. “The passion and drive Mike has for helping people is inspiring. We’re excited for the opportunity to partner and help Ironbound make a meaningful impact on people’s lives through sport.”
For more information on Ironboundboxing visit www.ironboundboxing.org