FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WNCN) – Massey Hill is among Fayetteville’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods.
Forty-five percent of families live below the poverty line and many areas appear dilapidated.
But, tucked away behind a garage door is one of the city’s greatest hidden gems: It’s called the “Boom Boom Room” and serves as a boxing gym for all ages.
“It’s always an open door, that’s the good thing. It’s like a place anyone can come and be themselves, nobody will judge them,” said James Armstrong, who is taking boxing lessons.
Photos of boxing legend Muhammad Ali adorn the walls.
The expectation is greatness and who better to train the students than a retired professional boxer, 65-year-old Antoneo Smith.
Smith boxed professionally throughout the country for 30 years.
“When I moved into this neighborhood, it was a whole lot of violence going on, kids going through stuff, kids not going to school, kids disrespecting their mom, kids just getting in a lot of trouble,” Smith explained about why he opened the gym.
Smith said a troubled childhood and making poor decisions as a young adult is something he knows all too well.
“At that point, you got one way to go – that’s to jail or get killed or something. So I chose to box,” Smith said.
Now, the Boom Boom Room provides something constructive for Smith and his students.
Smith trains about 20 people every week and he does it all for free.
Some students are people like 20-year-old Shamika House, who calls the gym her “happy place.”
“When I hit the bag or the music is playing, or I do both because I dance when I do it, it’s like letting it all go,” House said.
CBS North Carolina pulled numbers from the latest U.S. census about Massey Hill.
That data shows 27 percent of Massey Hill families never graduated from high school, 26 percent earn less than $10,000 a year and 37 percent of people hadn’t worked in 12 months.
However, Kirk Deviere, a Fayetteville city council member, says Massey Hill is making great strides including reducing crime and maintaining one of the city’s most active neighborhood watch groups.
The city is also investing nearly $700,000 to revitalize the Massey Hill recreation center.
“When we look at houses and making sure we don’t have blight and things like that in the community, and then when you have people just like this that just wanna give back and make a difference and help youth, that’s what pulls a neighborhood together and lifts them up out of some of these levels,” Deviere said.
The young men and women who train at the Boom Boom Room said it’s not just about boxing, it’s about finding passion.
“At the end of the day, like I tell them, follow your dreams, we all have dreams and I follow mine,” Smith said.
In order to accomplish such dreams, Smith says many life lessons are experienced in the gym including discipline and respect.
“I’ve learned a lot about patience, because practicing what you do takes patience and then you keep doing it over and you wanna do it better,” House said.
“When you’re determined to do something, keep your mind focused on what you’re doing, regardless of what’s going on around you or what might be said, you just stay focused,” said James Armstrong, another boxing student.