It’s no surprise to see local sports celebrities at the State Capitol. Frequently teams, coaches, and players are honored for their accomplishments both on the field and within their communities. Few athletes, though, can draw a crowd like boxing legend Evander Holyfield, the sport’s first and only four time World Heavyweight Champion.
A large group of elected officials and members of the local boxing community gathered under the Gold Dome Tuesday to see Holyfield discuss his upcoming boxing event, put on by his promotion company The Real Deal Boxing, as well as his efforts to help disadvantaged youth by steering them away from crime and into the gym.
The event, to take place this Thursday at the Georgia Freight Depot, (tickets still available) will be celebrate the boxer’s hall of fame career as well as serve as a 55th birthday celebration. Then of course there are the fights, a series of 10 bouts culminating with Toka Kahn Clary squaring off with Braulio Rodriguez in the main event.
But boxing isn’t the only reason Holyfield is back in his home state.
Earlier this year state Senator Lester Jackson, (D-Savannah) met with Preston Haliburton, a boxer-turned lawyer, about ways to help the state’s youth stay off the streets and away from gang violence, a prevalent issue in many parts of Georgia. Haliburton told Jackson that Savannah had once been a major boxing hub, and that perhaps helping direct youths’ aggression from the streets into the ring was a way to confront the issue.
“I needed an ambassador to speak to the students,” said Jackson. “But they weren’t going to listen to me, I needed someone who they’d really look up to.” Enter Evander Holyfield, a contact of Haliburton’s whose mission of helping troubled youth has been well documented. After meeting with the pair Holyfield agreed to become the face of the ‘Knuckles up, guns down’ campaign that will feature talks across the state and an effort to connect kids with local boxing clubs to keep them off the streets and give them positive role models.
As Haliburton told the crowd on Tuesday, “We’re not here to talk about Evander being a champion in the ring, we’re here to talk about him being a champion in the community.”
Holyfield credited the Warren Unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta for helping direct him on the path to becoming one of the most successful boxers of all time. “The boys club changed my life,” he told the audience. “And not just my life, but my kids’ lives.” For the former Olympic Medalist heading up an initiative focused on helping the state’s disadvantaged youth, the same sort of kids he and his siblings grew up as, is a no brainer.