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Inside Our Towns: Project Fighting Chance

Evan Sanford and James Fallows talk with Ian Franklin and Terry Boykins about Project Fighting Chance — a boxing gym that is more than a boxing gym in San Bernardino. They discuss how it got started, how it has grown, and an immediate challenge it faces today.

The very first segment in our HBO movie, Our Towns, featured an innovative and increasingly celebrated organization in San Bernardino, California, called Project Fighting Chance, or PFC. You can see Ian Franklin, a founder of PFC, appearing briefly but memorably in the trailer of the film, starting at time 0:40 of this clip from West City Films, producers of the superb feature-length documentary.

San Bernardino, as we have described, is a large, diverse, and in recent years seriously challenged city in California’s “Inland Empire.” The Inland Empire is where I grew up, in the adjoining city of Redlands, so I have always paid attention to San Bernardino as a bellwether.

Along with a number of the young people studying and training at PFC, Ian Franklin, is a major figure in our movie. He points out that while the visible part of PFC’s operation is as a boxing school, its ambitions – and accomplishments – are vastly larger. It teaches young people in the neighborhood music, and math, and chess, and other skills. It serves as a haven and safe-space home in a challenging area. It broadens the skills, self-confidence, and self-awareness of the people who pass through it. As Franklin points out, in many cases these are young people who otherwise would be spending their time on the streets or in gangs.

And meanwhile, it trains many national-champion level and Olympic-candidate athletes. Two years ago, PFC was named California Non-Profit of the Year. It has been invited to offer programs in many San Bernardino schools.

Recently Evan Sanford, of Our Towns (and the Redlands Chamber of Commerce), led a podcast with Ian Franklin and Terry Boykins of PFC, with me coming along for part of the discussion. You can see the whole session below:

Subscribe to Our Towns on YouTube here.

You can also listen on Spotify here:

Subscribe to Our Towns on Spotify here.

Now, a word about a late-breaking news development, which I ask Terry Boykins about in the latter part of the podcast conversation, and which I’ve spoken with him about since then. It is the sudden decision by the owners of the main PFC buildings—the ones you see in the movie, which are a combination of boxing gym, music classroom, chess-playing area, and much more—to jack up PFC’s rent and request it to leave by the end of this month.

The entire situation is strange, as detailed local coverage has pointed out. I encourage you to read this report from Brian Whitehead in the San Bernardino Sun, and this from Dianne Anderson of Precinct Reporter. (Side note: both stories are illustrations of why local journalism and local reporters still make such a crucial difference. I appreciate what Whitehead and Anderson have done.)

The essentials of the story seem to be these: PFC’s current location is managed by a group called the Home of Neighborly Service, in San Bernardino. According to tax records the buildings are owned by a religious group called the Presbytery of Riverside, which is headquartered in Redlands. The increased rent in question is not that much, in the big picture of California real estate. It’s a tripling of PFC’s current $500 per month rent, to $1500 per month. The ostensible reason for the increase is a rise in the property’s value. The PFC representatives point out that the improvements are nearly all repairs, investments, and renovations they have paid for themselves—and that their agreement at the current rent extends into next year. The larger theme, as you’ll hear in the podcast and read in the stories, is that PFC has seen the change as part of an attempt to force them out. I don’t yet have any idea why. (The local reporters were not able to get responses from the Home of Neighborly Service or the Presbytery of Riverside; I have not yet done so either, but of course will report when and if I learn more.)

The main PFC web site is here. Please listen to Ian Franklin and Terry Boykins describe their work, in conversation with Evan Sanford and me. And then visit their own site to follow their progress – and consider ways you might offer support.