Olympic and professional boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard paid a visit to his home town of Palmer Park to promote anti-bullying, healthy living and improved literacy.
The famed boxer, who grew up on what is now called Ray Leonard Road and trained to become a professional boxer in the streets of Palmer Park, said he is partnering with the county’s police department and NAACP chapter to improve the lives and futures of area youth by offering new services at the Sugar Ray Leonard Boxing Center on Barlowe Road.
During a Oct. 11 news conference at county police headquarters, located across the street from the boxing center, Leonard said the boxing center will become the “Sugar Ray Leonard Center for Excellence,” as he said he plans to bring a number of community services to the area, including job training, job placement, mentoring, physical fitness classes and other services centered on building successful futures and diminishing bullying for youths.
“This is home for me, this is really where it all began, my career, my legacy,” said Leonard, who now lives in Los Angeles. “And this is where other future champions will be born. If you believe, you can achieve.”
Police Chief Mark Magaw, who was given a signed pair of boxing gloves from Leonard, said he is excited for the opportunity to work with Leonard to help improve the area.
“You don’t have the opportunity every day to be around a world-class athlete,” Magaw said. “He grew up right down the street, he ran these streets for training, boxed at the local gym and we’re extremely excited to have him here.”
During the conference, Magaw gave Leonard a police badge and dubbed him an honorary officer of the county police department.
Youth members of PGPD’s Explorers program, a police-led educational program to spark interest in law enforcement, also attended to show support for Leonard’s efforts.
“I’m glad that he [came here] because without his help, bullying will keep going and going and going and it will never stop. There’s a lot of good things that he’s doing for us,” said Byron Purnell, 19, a member of PGPD’s Explorers. “When I first learned about him being from here I was surprised. It threw me off for a second because I didn’t expect him to grow up in Palmer Park so close to where we are, but I was actually really proud that somebody from PG County actually grew up and did something big with his life.”
Bob Ross, the county’s NAACP chapter president, said when the concept came up for Leonard’s boxing center to expand to include new services for youth, he was immediately supportive.
He said the NAACP, PGPD and the Prince George’s Department of Parks and Recreation are determining ways to implement new programs at the center in the near future.
“This takes everyone to make this thing happen. [Bullying] is getting out of control, it’s costing lives of so many young people. It’s hurting our communities, it’s hurting our younger generation,” Leonard said. “I came back to give back.”