Stepping into a boxing club, most people wouldn’t expect to see an 8-year old girl with a pair of boxing gloves the size of her head strapped onto her hands.
“Are you ready,” her instructor asks. She nods. Her instructor asks, “Are you sure?” She nods again. “All right. Let’s go.” Her boxing lesson begins.
Her instructor, Willie Ferrell, is using his club as part of the legacy of his brother, Jonathan Ferrell.
“Jonathan’s life was taken at 24. Every day I live, I live for the two of us,” Willie said. “A lot of people say, ‘you have to let go,’ but it’s my brother. I know if he were still alive, he’d enjoy the simple things, so that’s what I try to do every day.”
On Sept. 14, 2013, Jonathan Ferrell was involved in a car accident and walked to the nearest home for help. It was around 2:30 a.m. The woman living in the home was alarmed and called police.
Soon after, officers with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department arrived. Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick fired 12 rounds at Jonathan, hitting him 10 times. Eight rounds were fired while Ferrell was on the ground.
That night, Jonathan took his last breath, and Willie’s life changed in a flash.
For nearly two years, the Ferrell family awaited what the final decision would be for Kerrick. He faced a voluntary manslaughter charge, and the family went to court every day of the trial. When the judge declared a mistrial, the Ferrells called for peace.
Jonathan’s death impacted Willie’s life, and continues to do so. In turn, he is using his life to impact the lives of those around him, especially kids.
The Willie Ferrell Boxing Club is not only a business to coach and develop adults, it also has a hangout spot for children of lower-income families.
“I have about 40 kids a week who come to the club who can’t afford gym fees that I try to teach life skills to,” he said. “When they come to the gym, they have to do homework, or their rent that month will be picking up trash in the neighborhood to better the city. Just so they can see (that) because of their lives, they have made things better.”
The crushing pressures of the loss of Jonathan were heaviest in 2017 and 2018. Willie said his best way to cope with that strain was to give back.
A friend recommended that he volunteer at DISC Village, a multisite, community-based child welfare, criminal justice, diversion and substance abuse/mental health treatment center.
“That place really helped me out because I came in contact with a lot of guys who have been through some tough life situations,” Willie said. “I think I got a lot more from them than they did from me. I was down on myself, but I learned to look at every day, look at life, and enjoy the small successes.”
In August 2014, Willie launched Sankofa Promotions. Sankofa is a metaphorical symbol used by the Akan people of Ghana, usually depicted as a bird with its head turned backward taking an egg from its back.
The symbol for Willie expresses the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained in the past and bringing it into the present in order to make positive progress.
Jonathan had a tattoo of the image.
“A lot of African American kids, and people in general, don’t understand their roots and where they come from,” Willie said.
Willie Ferrell’s story is about his triumph of inner strength over seemingly insurmountable challenges, and he shares his wisdom, love and kindness to each kid who enters his gym.
No matter what 2021 brings to his life and journey, there is little doubt that Willie will live it for the betterment of his community, wherever that will be.
The next kid enters the gym. Gloves get tied on and training begins.
“The youth is our future,” Willie said. “It’s not about the start. It’s about the finish.”
If you have an inspiring story to share, email Kevin Campbell, WSOC-TV/WAXN-TV/Telemundo Charlotte public affairs manager, at Kevin.Campbell@wsoctv.com.