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July 14, 2011

Chicago’s Better Boys Foundation Celebrates 50 Years of Success

Chicago’s Better Boys Foundation Celebrates 50 Years of Success:

By Anna Davlantes, FOX Chicago News

Chicago – Stories about North Lawndale are often stories about violence. But the Better Boys Foundation, on a safe haven on the West side of Chicago, is celebrating 50 years of success.

“A lot of the guys I knew, almost all of them, are either dead, in jail, or addicted to drugs.. so I really think this center, this exposure to the arts, saved my life,” said Better Boys teacher Brill Barrett.

Better Boys was the vision of Joe Kellman, who started it half a century ago as a boys boxing club. Back in the day, Muhammad Ali paid visits here.

“He thought if you took the kids off the streets, put them in a boxing ring, what they were gonna do with their fists out there, maybe they could do in the boxing ring,” said Jack Kellman, Joe Kellman’s son. “Then I began to realize that sports was the lure.. education was the cure. So the BBF shifted focus from that boxing ring to education and family and everything that goes with it.”

Actor Robert Townsend spent a lot of time here as a kid, so did Former CPS School Board President Rufus Williams.

The list of high-profile people who’ve supported Better Boys includes: former Chicago Bear Gayle Sayers, Hall of Famer Richard Dent, and football legend Walter Payton. Payton was close friends with founder Joe Kellman and looked up to him as a father figure.

During the 1968 riots – when chaos broke out and entire blocks of the west side were set afire, as people angry about the assassination of Dr. King stormed the streets, looting and destroying property, there were few places you could hide.

The BBF building was one of them.

“There were a couple hundred people, mostly women and children laughing drinking eating.. and the whole world was burning around them. But this place was a place of safety,” Kellman said.

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