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Cheap Seats: Literacy Program Helps Vincent Pettway Honor Mack Lewis' Legacy

By Krystina Lucido
From the time Vincent Pettway was 8 years old, his trainer and boxing coach, Mack Lewis, wouldn't let him come into the boxing gym on North Bond Street if his grades weren't up to par.

"Mr. Mack always stressed education," Pettway said. "No matter what we did, he would check our report cards. There were a few times I couldn't come to the gym, because I had to get my grades right. Mr. Mack said, 'You can't come in here until you have passing grades.' That made me work that much harder to get my grades up, because I wanted to be in the gym."

The importance of education for Lewis carried over to his pupils. Almost a decade ago, Pettway took over that same gym on Bond Street, and for the past three years has been president of the Mack Lewis Foundation, which is launching a literacy program for students at the gym for the 2013-14 school year.

From 3-5 p.m. every day after school, there will be no training at the Mack Lewis Boxing Gym until studying for school is complete. Tutors from Johns Hopkins as well as high school students will tutor 6- to 13-year-olds in reading and math. The program is being funded solely through a grant given to the Mack Lewis Foundation by the East Baltimore Community Affairs division of Johns Hopkins University, as well as individual fundraisers the gym staff has hosted.

"We actually call it Brains Before Brawn," Pettway said. "Nobody is coming in and doing any working out; you got to get the bookwork done first before you train."

A launch event, held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 10, featured boxing demos, back-to-school giveaways and a health seminar as a way to introduce the literacy program to the community. Pettway, light/middleweight champion of the world in 1994, said his longtime trainer had inspired him to start the program in appreciation for all the coach had done for him during his younger years.

"[Lewis] graduated from Dunbar High School, went to Morgan State University, graduated from Morgan and he's constantly telling us we can go as far as we want to go in any field we want to do," Pettway said. "It doesn't necessarily have to be boxing, but if you have knowledge, you can go anywhere you want in the world and do what you want to do with that knowledge. We wanted to honor his legacy by continuing the public-education part."

Lewis died Nov. 12, 2010, at the age of 92, after close to 50 years of boxing training and educating. He trained hundreds of athletes, some who became world champs, like Pettway, and others who didn't make it in the world of boxing, but were successful in outside endeavors.

"It wasn't necessarily always about you being a boxer," Pettway said, "but he wanted to see people do well, no matter what they were involved in. Lawyer, doctor, he wanted you to always try to reach success in whatever you were involved in.

"He was always about doing things correctly, the right way, treating people fairly."

His legacy continues. About 15-20 middle and high school kids currently train at the gym, at a variety of skill levels. They come from the city and the county. Three or four have competed regionally, and one was invited to a national tournament. But no matter their success in the ring, Lewis' educational achievement message rings throughout the hollow walls on Bond.

More Cheap Seats:
Jimmy Flattery Junior Tournament Thrives At Hunt Valley Golf Club
Orioles, Living Classrooms Helping Students Get Fit
Baltimore Hockey Classic Helps Capitals Connect With Charm City Fan Base
Mike Gimbel Educating Athletes About Dangers Of Drugs, Alcohol, PEDs
Literacy Program Helps Vincent Pettway Honor Mack Lewis' Legacy
Shoes For Grades Program Motivates Local Students To Improve In Classroom

Issue 188: August 2013