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BY KELTON BROOKS

To the average spectator, the sport of boxing is straightforward: two athletes standing toe to toe in a ring, exchanging punches.

Once homeless and searching for his next meal, repeatedly wearing the same worn clothes, incarcerated for five years and fathering two children has been a reality for Anthony Harris.

“When I was growing up, we didn’t have that much of nothing. We struggled trying to live life, living in boxes, and sometimes we barely had food on the table,” he said

Harris also said if it wasn’t for The Pantry, United Way of Oxford-Lafayette County, which is an all-volunteer organization that provides a family in need with a one-week supply of food and staples, he would have gone days without eating.

But it still wasn’t enough.

A quick left past the busy intersection of Molly Barr Road and North Lamar Boulevard lies a house supported by cinder blocks, a window with no glass with tattered curtains, vines and roots growing through the outer walls and a battered door that has been tampered with on numerous occasions.

The inside holds a broken thermostat with neither the heat nor cold, squeaking wooden floors and a short, narrow hallway that could barley support two people. These conditions are unfit for a house with four children, a mother and three teenagers, but this house is home to Harris.

“I’m over here every day just trying to do something around the house,” Harris said.

“If I’m not here, I’m either at practice or out looking for a job, putting in more applications,” he said.

“But I still haven’t found anything yet.”

Beyond the courage Harris draws from himself and the motivation from his troubled past, his boxing coach pushes him harder than any other boxer.

“Anthony is a jewel in the rough,” Coach Brian Hawks.

“He started heads above the guys that I get, he was already athletic, coordinated and very fast hands,” Hawks said.

Harris has been attending the Oxford Park Commission for the past four months. The OPC is an activity center that contains a portion that consists of boxing.

“He’s improved on a fundamental level in terms of his defense, keeping his hands up, using his footwork to allude, and his punching power has increased through various strength exercises and the heavy bag,” Hawks said.

After a few personal talks with Harris, Hawks knows what boxing means to him.

“Boxing in this location in particular has always been a haven or refuge,” Hawks said.

“The little I know about Anthony, I can tell his attitude is conducive with change and making a positive influence on his life, I’m really happy for him.”

Coach Hawks also added that it takes a boxer nine months to get a boxer into “good fighting shape,” which includes the physical aspect as well mental.

“This is a tough profession, most fighters a farm fighters, which means they don’t get anywhere in the game,” said Jon Lewis, Chairman of the Mississippi Athletic Commission.

“They’re not that many organizations or gyms for that m matter to support the amount of fighters we get every day,” Lewis said.”

When a boxer begins their pro careers, the normal process is to escalade through the amateur ranks, but Lewis said this isn’t always the case.

“Some people that go pro in boxing never have an amateur career,” Lewis said.

“Sometimes kids that do lengthy amateur careers did well, but they got too washed up with too many fights.”

Lewis knows there are people who come to boxing looking for a way out. He message to them were simple and direct.

“For kids who come in looking for boxing as a scapegoat, they better be prepared to strap up.”

Harris improvement in his skills isn’t solely coming from the strenuous and draining training regiment, but also the pain from his past.

“Boxing is where I can take out my frustration when I’m in the ring,” Harris said.

“Not just letting it all out on my opponent, but just to be in the ring is letting it out,” he said.

“It relieves a lot of pain from my past.”

Harris also said he’s not boxing just for himself, but his whole family.

“I’m going to keep doing this until I get bigger and better,” Harris said

“I’m doing this for my mom, my nieces and nephews and to let the homeless kids know that I feel they’re pain.”