When Jonny Perez enters the boxing ring, he doesn’t enter it alone. Perez, a 21-year-old Richmond native with a troubled history, has a whole community behind him.
He spent over a year coaching other young fighters, who now are backing him as he reaches for a higher ranking. He worked with the Safe Return Project, a group of formerly incarcerated Richmond residents who try to help others adjust to life outside prison, and has started his own subsidiary project, which he calls “Freedom Fighters.”
Now, Perez is using social media and crowd funding to raise $1,000 in time to enter a national competition at Oxnard on Sept. 28.
“For me it’s not just winning money and fighting, it’s giving hope to my people. People see me chasing for my dreams and it gives them hope,” Perez said.
He has helped many recently incarcerated people find their way to drug counselors and education programs. Perez has been lobbying for local government policies to remove constraints against felons looking for work after being released. He has been trying to convince policymakers to spend less on expanding jails and more on programs that give ex-convicts a fresh start.
With political reform on the back burner for now Perez is setting his sights on getting to Oxnard. While he’s still short on the funding for now, he’s got plenty of backers in his corner.
“Jonny’s strong-willed and determined,” said John Island, Perez’s coach.
During a recent workout, the boxer let loose on the heavy bags, gearing up for a few practice rounds. His head was wrapped in a bright red bandana beneath his padded head gear. His red gloves were laced tight.
Perez pulled apart the ropes, approached his sparring partner, and with the ding of the opening bell, took one step closer to reaching his goals for himself and his community.