A child who grew up in poverty never forgets what it’s like. Many use it as a source of motivation and fight for a better life. Those who attain that will often give back to the ones going through a similar experience. Two-time super middleweight champion Anthony Dirrell (33-2-1, 24 KOs) is such a person. He and his five siblings (including fellow boxer Andre Dirrell) grew up in Flint, Michigan, where Anthony still resides. "My granddaddy (Leon ‘Bumper’ Lawson) took over as young boys and gave my mom a break," Dirrell said. "It was a well-deserved break and I respect him for that. We didn’t have much. We wasn’t down on the bottom, we were just getting by. But we made it out and we made a name for ourselves. That’s what it’s all about."
Dirrell is now in a position to help others experiencing circumstances similar to the ones he encountered growing up. Between fights, he dedicates much of his time to showing others, particularly children, that there is a way out. "With all the things I’ve been through, from where I grew up in poverty, not having much, and now, seeing kids the same way—I just wanted to make a change,” said Dirrell. “That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to change a kid’s life. Even if it’s just one little kid, that one kid can inspire other kids, when he gets older, to do the right thing. That’s the plan."
In 2006, at the age of 21, Dirrell was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Forever a fighter, he continued to train between treatments that lasted two years. Thankfully, he recovered fully. The experience prompted Dirrell to create the Dirrell's Chance Foundation to help others fighting similar battles. "I grounded it in things I wanted to do. The purpose of the foundation is to help find a cure for cancer, to stop bullying, and help kids with their education too,” Dirrell explained. “I give out turkeys every year, Christmas gifts, and just do charitable things throughout the year because that’s the type of person I am. I just want to give back and make people smile. If I can make someone smile then I’ve done my good deed for the day.”
During the holiday season last year, Dirrell performed random acts of kindness for strangers daily for the 12 days leading up to Christmas. Whether he was in Flint or happened to be somewhere else like Los Angeles, he continued the campaign and posted about it on social media to inspire others to give. “Around the holidays, it’s hard times, so if I can take some stress off someone else, I’ll do it,” said Dirrell. “I went to Target and gave people gift cards. If I saw someone I’d just pay for their stuff right then and there. That’s what that season is about, giving and not looking for something in return.”
On May 9th, Dirrell hosted a virtual "Flint Fight Night" event where various athletes faced off by playing UFC 3 on PlayStation 4. The event was free to watch, but viewers were encouraged to donate to the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Flint. The athletes who took part included Anthony’s brother Andre, Errol Spence Jr., Claressa Shields, Adrien Broner, [Adam] 'Pacman' Jones, Kyle Kuzma, Eddie Jones, Josh Smith, Joey Spencer, and Brandon Carr.
“These are the same people who give back in their communities also,” said Dirrell. “It was a blessing that they committed to it. It’s a good cause—we are 100% for the kids. This is a new generation coming up, and we have to teach them right from wrong. With the Boys & Girls Club, you can go there if you’re tired of being at home, if you need help with your homework, if you just want to sit there and talk to somebody, or if you just want to go.”
Dirrell’s aspirations don’t end there. “I’m trying to open a second Boys & Girls Club [in Flint]. We only have one, and some kids can’t get to that one [on the other side of town].”
The funds raised for the Boys & Girls Club of Flint from the virtual Fight Night event will provide water, food, educational work packets and more for the people of Flint who are simultaneously dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic on top of the longstanding Flint Water Crisis.
The water crisis began in April 2014, when the city changed its water source from treated Detroit Water and Sewage Department water to the Flint River. City officials neglected to apply corrosion inhibitors to the water, and the result was lead—a heavy metal neurotoxin—leaking from aging pipes into the water supply.
“For this to be going on since 2014 without clean pipes, it’s an issue,” said Dirrell. “I want to spread awareness to the world, to the US, that this is an issue in Flint, Michigan, in your country, in your state. And now because of COVID-19 they tell you to wash your hands, but you can’t wash your hands with dirty water.
Dirrell believes the water crisis will be fixed—but only if those who are in a position to fight for those who are not do so.
“We’ll get it resolved,” Dirrell declared. “That’s the thing about Flint, Michigan. We stick together and we act as one whenever we go through something. We’re still going through it but we’re still staying strong.”.
Anyone can donate to the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Flint, whose mission is “to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”
PBC Press Release written by Caryn A. Tate