HEARTS & HANDS - Inspiring a lost generation through boxing

Read Time : 5 min

The mission of BOXRAW was always greater than merely selling t-shirts & hoodies. We knew we could leverage the power of the brand & the stars within combat sports who represent us to make a positive contribution around the world. As such, through a series of chance encounters BOXRAW and our BOXING IS LOVE program has partnered with a one of a kind organization; SAVE MORE KIDS, to turn a vision into a reality. I was a beneficiary of one of those chance encounters & in this blog is an interview I conducted with  one of the key players involved with SAVE MORE KIDS,  BUTTERFLY AFFECT BOXING - the foundation he helped set up & details regarding the first of many joint ventures the BOXING IS LOVE program will be part of - the maiden voyage being to the once war-torn nation of Liberia.

 

Back in February, I had the good fortune to meet up with Jason Scalzo, a former medical device sales rep who left the corporate hustle behind to pursue a career in philanthropy full time. Based in my adopted home city of Charleston, South Carolina, I am fortunate to have access to his insight virtually whenever I want. We sat down for a long form interview after being connected by a mutual acquaintance - small world? Or maybe there is something grander and more wonderful unfolding before us…

Jason and I hit it off immediately out of our shared love and experience training in combat sports and we began our discussion there.

When did you begin training in combat sports?

Jason Scalzo: I started in combat sports - martial arts when I was about 10 years old, in New Haven CT [where I was born] my dad brought me - this skinny little - probably 110 pounder the majority of my life to Ring One Gym in New Haven to box. 

At the time I was so obsessed with Bruce Lee that I wanted to do more kicking so my dad brought me to a Taekwondo school and that’s where I excelled. I excelled to a point whereby the time I was 14 I had received my first degree Black Belt and made my first US Team for the ITF (International Taekwon-Do Federation). In fact, I was invited to a class with the known inventor of Taekwon-Do, Gen. Choi Hong Hi - one of the happiest days in my life.

Our team competed all over the Western hemisphere, there was a point where I was world ranked. We won Gold in Canada and Silver in Mexico.

Jason competed in Taekwon-Do for some 10 years in a variety of tournament settings, often cleaning out his division. Around age 20 he moved to Charleston, SC and has been his home for the past 17 years. 

How did you get into boxing?

Jason: I also played baseball and [because of baseball & Taekwon-Do] this lead to me not being able to lift my leg above my waist [to kick] and that’s when I started to dedicate myself more to boxing.

So, some of these medical conditions contributed toward your transition to boxing?

Jason: Absolutely. 

Did you compete in boxing?

Jason: It [boxing] was more teaching and coaching - what prompted this in all honesty - when I dove back in it was at the darkest time in my life. The first surgery I had [on my hip] my wife kicked me out of my house, I couldn’t walk - it was the hardest time - I couldn’t see my daughter and I was struggling and I found this gym (Hurricane Boxing Academy http://hurricaneboxing.net/)

After my divorce I needed something other than pain meds, other than sitting in my room wallowing in self-pity - it was a place where I was able to restore my self-confidence. The coach (Michael Golemis) became a mentor - the people became family and it saved me from a really difficult time. During the divorce and the first surgery I lost like 30 pounds - I mean all I was doing was not eating and taking pills. 

As far as my love for boxing goes - I was on my grandfather's lap at the age of five watching old 8-millimetre films of Rocky Marciano and Primo Carnera, Joe Louis … Rocky Marciano was the name I probably heard most in my entire life - outside of Mickey Mantle from my grandfather.

So it was Rocky Marciano, Bruce Lee and when I saw Muhammad Ali and his charisma and dancing - it was really the footage that I saw of the Rumble in the Jungle that really hooked me - he was just controlling the room and that’s when I started to become more of a historian of what the narrative of Muhammad Ali at that time. The Rumble in the Jungle was his first major fight after being reinstated, during that 3 ½ years he was public enemy #1 - worse than Colin Kaepernick ever was…he was the villain.

One of the things about Ali though that makes him an original as far as I’m concerned - and you can apply what he chose to do to some of the biggest names in technology whether it be Steve Jobs is that when he was told ‘No’ he did it anyway!

So from a professional standpoint, let's dive into that. So, where did you go to school?

Jason: I went to the College of Charleston (majoring in psychology) - I tried to play baseball there - I saw about 10 minutes of the field but I fell in love with the school and the city more than sports. My road to philanthropy initially was through baseball because I created the Charleston Miracle League - that’s a baseball league for children with disabilities. We raised about $200,000 to create a rubber field for children with walkers and wheelchairs to play baseball.

That segued into one of the parents asking me to get involved with Surface Healing - which is a Surf Camp for children with Autism.

Jason went on to obtain a Masters in Business Administration from the University of South Carolina, Darla Moore School of Business. After school, Jason worked directly with Autistic children doing Applied Behavior Analysis therapy. All the while, Jason continued his fundraising activity and that networking leads to opportunities as a pharmaceutical rep as well as medical device sales for nearly a decade.  

His passion, however, remained philanthropy and Jason is credited with raising at least one  Million dollars in his career in the South Carolina.

All the while Jason’s passion for boxing remained a key component of his life - there the heavy bag hung in his room where he put in work when the opportunity presented itself and he had the time to go rounds. He remained a student of the sport as well keeping up with all the fights and fighters over the years. Having spoken with him at length I can confirm he is among the most educated boxing fans you will ever meet or talk too.

Did you ever think you would get back into training as seriously as you are now? Did you take that for granted?

Jason: Most definitely...but at the time I wired to think that my career was the most important thing that I needed to focus on and that ended up biting me a little bit because I deviated from the philanthropy when I did get these opportunities to make money and to provide for a family - I had a daughter and as a result of that I decided that I needed to work harder, which disconnected me from the more important things.

Jason has been able to repair those relationships like the one with his four-year-old daughter Avery whom Jason readily describes as the love of his life! He has a wonderful partner in his life who has been supportive of his decision to walk away from a comfortable salary in sales to pursue philanthropic causes full time like Save More Kids - the umbrella organization that spawned Butterfly Affect Boxing.

Taking inspiration from Ali’s pugnacious resolve, the message from the larger society was that Jason had to get a job, make money and any utopian dreams of pursuing goals that would be beneficial to the world around him would have to be abandoned.

He faced up to that “reality” and said simply - No.

Through Jason’s continued networking he was brought in as a consultant by the international relief organization Save More Kids (http://www.savemorekids.org/) to help seek out fundraising opportunities for their Impact Project in Liberia.

For someone like me who has no idea what an Impact Project is or means can you talk about that?

Jason: [The impact project] is really proprietary to that organization so you would not really know otherwise - that’s their term for it. Their impact project had five elements to it; an orphanage that they purchased, they have about 50 children, these are all rehabilitated victims of Civil War. There’s a school depending on what age they were captured. There’s women empowerment to break the cycle of sexual assault and spread of disease. Of course, there’s aid and relief - I think we’ve provided about 180,000 pounds of food to the villages all around the area. 

What really captured me was the rubber tree project. The family that started this organization purchased about 100 acres of land in Liberia. Some of it is [ocean front]  extremely valuable. Instead of building hotels they are planting 150,000 rubber trees to establish and stimulate an economy! I tried to use some of my networks to figure out how to pull in money for them. Then casually, over a cup of coffee, I was telling them a story - an Idea that I had  - a friend of mine from Cameroon wanted to do a  [boxing] gym in the Congo. Very irresponsible to get into a jeep, drive through the jungle, roads unpaved, very peculiar! It was just going to be me, his uncle and him.

Then Quanuquanei A. Karmue ("Q") [director of Save More Kids] said why don’t you do it in Liberia. A light bulb went off. What we were able to establish with the organization was a functional, replicative infrastructure that can be done pretty much anywhere in the world.

We have partnerships with a logistics company [that will supply] shipping containers, we have a process in place for vetting corruption, we have people within Liberia that are willing to help map out the land.

It’s illogical to think that everybody who puts a [boxing] glove on is going to be a pro, but as a byproduct of the education they receive and the self-confidence and determination that you get as a function of the discipline you get, you can literally visualize hope!

The Butterfly Affect

And the Butterfly Affect - I understand grammatically butterfly effect is one thing, but the Butterfly is the symbol of floating over circumstances and the effect is the emotional impact that boxing will cause as a byproduct.

Boxing is something that has helped me, it’s helped you, it’s helped countless people throughout the world and in some countries around the world, it’s a dying sport because there’s not the infrastructure… they’re so used to the idea of “aid” - these NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) just dumping resources and it’s all “free” so how can infrastructure be built when you’re competing with free… so they’re almost perpetuating this culture of poverty.

Everything that Save More Kids represents is breaking this cycle of dependency.

What we’ve done with Butterfly Affect Boxing is we have established a team of amateur and professional [boxers] because - let’s be honest - I don’t know if my impact is going to be nearly as important as Freddy Kiwitt and Lee Emanuel Ossie because they are native sons of Liberia.

In mid-February, when I first engaged Jason about Save More Kids and the  Butterfly Affect Boxing project he told me about Freddy Kiwitt and Manuel and you can read all about Freddy’s amazing story in a piece I wrote about him just before his fight on 16 February.

https://boxraw.com/blogs/blog/one-hope-one-quest-the-story-of-freddy-kiwitt

Again, the relationship that Jason was able to cultivate with Freddy and Freddy with Manuel is an amazing story all it’s own.  

So tell me how you met Freddy Kiwitt.

Jason: I identified two Liberian born boxers on the planet! The first one was Lee Manuel Ossie, a heavyweight fighter in the 1990s, nicknamed The Destroyer, he won the African Heavyweight Championship, the European Championship. Fought in the United States a few times, but he was off the grid - not on Facebook - so he’s hard to find. He left Liberia during the first Civil War to pursue his boxing career - his wife didn’t survive - so he has not been back to Liberia since...

So I’m going through - I’m googling, and the other person that pops up is Pretty Boy Freddy Kiwitt - Welterweight, he was born in Saclepea, Liberia. Relocated and raised in Germany then pursued a professional fighting career in London, UK.

So I found Freddy on Facebook, followed him on Instagram and I just messaged him - and I messaged him and I messaged him and finally responded and he was actually quite happy to help. So we got on the phone. On the periphery he’s got the life living in London, he’s a good-looking guy, he’s a personal trainer as well as a boxer and he was so willing to help… he also referenced Lee Manuel as someone he searched for and couldn’t really find. As time went on he and I became closer, he became more outspoken about some the struggles that he had… 

He’s had a couple questionable loses, then he starts talking about his manager locking him into a contract that he can’t get out of until October (2018), [the manager] is very vague about the money [Freddy] is making - all the cliche stuff you hear about. 

After leaving Liberia behind Manuel ultimately ended up running a gym in Spain, surreptitiously, Jason got a response from Lee Manuel via the comments section of a YouTube video Manuel had posted about his boxing gym in Spain.

So, the walls are coming down [with Freddy] then I finally get a hold of Manuel and Manuel is elated about all this stuff! So I gave Manuel Freddy’s email and said why don’t you reach out to him I think he could use some guidance.

So then I was at a meeting with a potential donor and one of the women that I was working with at the organization looks at her Instagram page and we see a picture of Freddy and Manuel together! Manuel literally jumped on a plane to London! This is when it became real.

From a small apartment in Charleston, SC  I was able to connect two boxers - and they were able to save each other.

 

Since this interview was conducted Jason has flown to England ostensibly to meet Freddy and Manuel for the first time and to game plan how to move forward logistically with the Butterfly Affect Boxing program in Liberia through the Save More Kids organization. During this trip, Jason was able to arrange a meeting with Ben Amanna, founder of BOXRAW and now Butterfly Affect Boxing has partnered with Mr Amanna’s own foundation - Boxing Is Love - dedicated to spreading the positive impact of boxing to underserved areas around the world.  

Our partnership will lend even more energy and on a practical level - material support - to the Butterfly Affect Boxing program. BOXRAW has committed to building a boxing ring on the land demarcated by the Save More Kids org, supplying gloves, heavy bags as well as donating BOXRAW gear to the children and young people who have joined Butterfly Affect Boxing.  

Further, Jason Scalzo has been named the head of our very own Boxing is Love program. With his expertise and experience organizing and fundraising, Jason is the ideal person to take charge of the BOXRAW mission to foster positive change through the art and discipline of boxing.

Amazingly, since Jason, Freddy and Manuel have connected and their story continuing to spread within the boxing world others have taken notice.

Archie Weah, another Liberian born boxer living in the US has taken interest and is likely to come and assist get the Butterfly Affect boxing program up and running. Weah also fights under Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal promotion and there have been some inroads made with the Holyfield Foundation for additional support.  

Weah has also connected with Marcus Browne the hungry Light Heavyweight prospect who may find himself standing across from Sergey Kovalev before long. Archie Weah and he grew up in Staten Island, NY together and when Browne found out Archie was getting involved with Butterfly Affect Boxing Browne wanted to as well.

There are the broad brush strokes.

Jason himself will tell you that this is a vision and concept - it will take real material support to bring this into a full reality for these children.

A stunning 70% of Liberia’s population is under 25, there are a wide variety of circumstances that give rise to this statistic not least of which that a whole generation has been lost to two bloody and barbaric civil wars. 

Some 250,000 people - that we know of died as a result. Freddy, Archie and Manuel could have been among their number. As it happens Manuel lost everything… everything. 

Yet he has found the strength largely due to his strong faith to return to Liberia with his new charge Freddy whom he treats like his own son for a measure of closure and redemption. 

Jason says to me constantly that so much has happened already that has not been covered, that has not been explained. Well, this is my modest attempt at telling the beginnings of this extraordinary story and this story will be ongoing!

As part of our partnership with Butterfly Affect Boxing, BOXRAW will have a new blog dedicated solely to progress made in Liberia.

We will be telling many many stories of the people, children and land that is Liberia - a fascinating country that has gone through so much - too much.

Jason leaves with his team on a scouting mission later this month and then in less than eight weeks time, the full crew will arrive in the country to begin this earnest and heartfelt labour.

Please stay with us, follow our new blog and keep up with Jason, Freddy and the whole Butterfly Affect Boxing project. Also, check out Save More Kids https://www.savemorekids.org/our-story.html if you are interested in helping in any way, do reach out to them.

This is not charity, we are using the powers of human to human connection - of Love and Boxing to inspire change from within.