Philly boxing gym recruits boys away from gang life

 From left: Trainer Sharif Brown, Alan Gonzalez, 13; Khadir Gaitan, 12; Amir Gonzalez, 9; Devon Rosa, 7; and Shawn

From left: Trainer Sharif Brown, Alan Gonzalez, 13; Khadir Gaitan, 12; Amir Gonzalez, 9; Devon Rosa, 7; and Shawn "Frogg" Banks at the Badlandz Boxing Gym on North American Street in Kensington. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Joshua Rosa grew up in what he calls “one of the roughest spots” of Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood. To give kids an alternative to joining a gang, he opened Badlandz Boxing Gym about a year ago and quickly became a fixture of the neighborhood. 

Badlandz Boxing Gym owner Joshua Rosa knows all about getting in trouble.

“Me and my brothers, we started to choose bad paths hangin’ on the corners and all that stuff,” he said. “I went to jail for guns and stuff like that, and yes, I also sold drugs.”

Rosa grew up at Hancock and Dauphin, what he calls “one of the roughest spots in the neighborhood,” around the corner from his gym. Since then, he’s made something of his life. After working as a trainer, he opened Badlandz about a year ago.

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“I really opened it because of my sons and my nephew — and to help kids get out of the street and to see where it would take me,” Rosa said.

Rosa admits he would love to discover talent here but admits his boxing days are over. A bad accident left him with six screws in his neck and three metal plates.

This gym has quickly become a fixture of the neighborhood. Community activist Shawn “Frogg” Banks, who helped get the kids out of a local gang called Bad Boys Rumble and into the gym to box, says the neighborhood needs Badlandz.

“This just got a lot of the kids off the streets that used to fight and used to gang war, pick up guns,” he said. “And right across these tracks at night, it just sounds like Beirut. You hear gunshots and sirens constantly, but this gym bring a different aura to the neighborhood.”

Rosa says he’d rather have neighborhood kids in his gym working and learning than struggling to find their way out on the streets. He looks at his own 7-year-old son standing next to him and says he wishes he’d listened to his own father when he was younger — it could have kept him out of trouble.

Rosa admits money’s been tight. He says the gym needs equipment. “I need a couple speed bags,” he said, as well as “agility bags, uppercut bags, more pads — ’cause you know stuff is already getting wear and tear.”

But Rosa repeatedly says he does not ask for handouts. He charges parents what they can afford, and he doesn’t turn any kid away.

If someone wants to help out, he says, they could donate money or equipment or sponsor a kid’s trip to a boxing tournament.

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