By Mukala Kabongo
Private Jewels Fitness in Lynn, Mass., has a reputation of being a safe haven and an outlet for youth in the Lynn area to channel their aggression through boxing. The gym trains young men who aspire to becoming professional boxers. But for teens and young adults who flock to the gym, the gym’s most important lessons involve guidance and safety.
Gym owner Alex Sepulveda opened it in 2015 after he was incarcerated and decided he wanted to make a difference when he was freed.
“When I was incarcerated I was in there thinking what ways I could give back to my community,” Sepulveda said.
Sepulveda, who was facing 15 years to life in prison, said he was set free in 2013 after his case was dismissed due to corruption. Since then, he has used Private Jewels Fitness as a way to show youth what they can achieve when given a second chance.
“I’m definitely helping my community by helping kids to show their best potential. Every kid is special,” said Sepulveda.
The gym has about 286 members and offers a variety of classes such as boxing, Kempo Karate and adult group workouts as well as private lessons. Rates for these classes range from $50-$120 monthly.
Sepulveda’s boxing program has 62 young men ranging from age eight to 40. He works with the Department of Social Services to provide training for them Monday through Friday.
The gym also offers a Junior Olympics program with participants ranging from age eight to 40. “I have about 20 kids who compete in a competitive national level, from golden gloves to silver mitts,” Sepulveda said.
Charles Espinal, a 24-year-old boxer, said he has felt the impact that Sepulveda has had on his life. Espinal, who is from Salem, Mass., began boxing after he fell out of love with football and was trying to find a way to not become another statistic. “I was just a kid trying to find a way off of the streets and staying away from street violence, drugs and gang activities, just trying to stay out of trouble,” said Espinal.
He believes the gym has done wonders for him. Espinal said he thinks with a more level head before he reacts to any situation that he believes could cost him his freedom and the opportunity to continue boxing. “Organizations like this help kids like me realize that there’s a lot more out there going then just what’s in the streets,” said Sepulveda. “If we all find something positive and latch on it we can all grow,” said Espinal.
The gym has also helped Zachary Calmus, a 26-year-old fighter who like Espinal could have become another statistic but used the lessons he learned from boxing to guide him in life.
“Boxing taught four main things: compassion, honesty, determination and respect,” said Calmus. “It taught me how to respect those things in myself. That way, I can respect those things in others.”
For Calmus, Private Jewels gave him structure and stability. After having moved around and lived in many places, he sees the gym as a positive place for many like himself. “Kids have a choice to come to the gym or they can go to streets and when they make the choice to come to the gym it’s a positive decision,” said Calmus.
Calmus and Espinal said being surrounded by positive people keeps the young fighters interested in always being in the gym because they consider each other family.
Espinal said Alex Sepulveda and Jody Adams, a trainer at Private Jewels Fitness, serve as positive male figures that he needed in his life because he did not have a relationship with his father. “When I first started boxing my father had just gone to jail. I barely seen my father my whole life,” said Espinal. “Without that positive male role model we can’t really grow.”
Calmus also admires Sepulveda and the things that he does for the youth of Lynn. “Alex is a great man who really cares about his community, he cares about each and every one of us in the gym,” said Calmus.
Sepulveda and Adams said they understand more must be done in the community and more youth need to be helped but they know what they are doing is greatly affecting the lives of the young men they come across in the community.
“It’s very important. Not having it you can be misguided and when it’s not there you can go to whatever you are first exposed to and that’s very dangerous,” said Adams.
“We’re not done yet and hearing things like that it’s beautiful but I feel that there is more to be done out there,” said Sepulveda.