Fighting Words: inner city children mix combat sports with stories

“I want young boys to know it is okay and normal to have feelings. Often anger is the only emotional response expected of boys,” says A-Dziko Simba Gegele, author of All Over Again, a coming-of-age story about a 12-year-old boy growing up in rural Jamaica.

We’re in Fletcher’s Land, in downtown Kingston, for the third of six launches of Fighting Words, a community-based book club programme for children and teens. The initiative is facilitated by Fight for Peace, an NGO that supports a holistic programme of combat sports and personal development delivered by local partners to young people in communities affected by high levels of poverty and violence.

Book club idea came from youth boxers

The idea for the book clubs came from a group of boxers who are part of the programme in Tivoli Gardens, west Kingston.

“They didn’t call it a book club, but they told us they were really interested in something where they could meet authors and have access to books,” says Kellie Magnus, the Fight for Peace Country Lead in Jamaica.

A young girl listens to the story being read.

Hope that stories will be published

Many of the children living in the communities where Fight for Peace and its partners work do not have regular access to books and reading material, outside of what forms part of their formal school curriculum. Fighting Words will run for a year in the six communities, engaging approximately 200 children and youth, and the participants will meet regularly to read books, as well as write and illustrate their own stories. There’s even the possibility that some of these might be selected by a local publishing house. The programme is funded by the American Friends of Jamaica and complements the broader sport for development programmes Fight for Peace supports with funding from the IKEA Foundation, UNICEF and DFID.

“We hope that through these book clubs we can reinforce their interest in reading and that they’ll absorb the power of being able to tell their own stories,” adds Kellie.

Boys and girls growing in confidence

All Over Again was a deliberate choice as the first book for Fighting Words – the initiative will focus on local children’s and Young Adult fiction whose characters and environments are relatable to the participants as well as books about sports and those selected by the participants themselves. During the launch, A-Dziko reads out aloud from a section of the book focused on a football match taking place in the community. When she’s done and begins to ask questions about the behaviour and motives of some of the players in the story, hands shoot up across the room and several boys start talking over each other, with great enthusiasm, sharing their insight into what happened.

As the session wraps up, Community Coordinator, Wayne Williams takes down everyone’s details so they can plan the next meeting date and time. Ten-year-olds Darianna and Regean are particularly interested in the notion of producing their own story:

“I like writing,” says Regean.
“I like drawing,” says Darianna.

Stay tuned for their upcoming collaboration!

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