BELONGING

In a solo sport like boxing, ‘belonging’ may not be the word that comes to mind. But, behind every fighter is a misfit family of sorts, thrusting them up in moments of glory and supporting them when they fall. It’s this exact family environment Kamal and her husband Ibrahim, a champion lightweight boxer, are creating at Mentoring Juniors Kids Organization (MJKO). The program focuses on camps, after-school programs and training sessions to teach both mental and physical strength through the sport of boxing. “At MJKO, we create a sense of belonging. I think every single person that gets into the ring is a winner,” said Kamal.

After surviving a sexual assault days before her sixteenth birthday, Kamal was left feeling lost. Growing up in a small town in Nova Scotia, she felt afraid to speak up. “The experience of being assaulted, it changed me from an athlete to a competitive person, someone very trusting to the exact opposite,” she said. After moving to Toronto at 18 for a fresh start, she was introduced to boxing coach and Canadian Olympian, Egerton Marcus who helped show her the way. “It was difficult, the boxing world is not inclusive. It was 100% male.”

"It was difficult. The boxing world is not inclusive, it was 100 percent male. But from the very second I put on the gloves, I felt like I started to change. Boxing and that process, it healed me as a person"

“I was nicknamed Bambi,” she said with a laugh, because she struggled with her feet and often apologized after landing a hit. “My coach thought I was crazy for wanting to fight,” but this wasn’t about victory, it was about confidence. “As a woman, it was the most freeing experience I’ve had in my entire life. I didn’t have to be a girl. I didn’t have to be kind, I didn’t have to be anything but an athlete trying to survive.”

Kamal aims to create a space where kids can learn independence and self-worth but along the way they’ve taught her lessons of their own. “The biggest gift that the kids have taught me is time; all they want is your time.”

Where some people might see pain, Kamal and MJKO see healing. “To use boxing to heal, you have to use vigorous physical activity or it doesn’t work. We’re not counselors. We’re not therapists. You have to help them realize that through the motion of sweating through the motion of pushing through the hard stuff that yes, it can be scary and it can be messy, but that’s alright.”

The way through isn’t always easy, and for many of these kids life may have more uphill battles to come but maybe through the power of sport, they’ll know that they can persevere. 

“Once I shared my story, boxing helped lift that weight of shame to say, you know what? You did your best. That's I think what boxing teaches you; you have to do your best in that moment, and then the rest is okay.”

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