Circle of Discipline celebrates 25 years of training, fitness, service

Stephenetta Harmon/MSR News Circle of Discipline staff and extended family

More than boxing, the organization has been a family to many

For the past 25 years, South Minneapolis’ Circle of Discipline (COD) has built an enviable rep for using its boxing ring to go the distance for the community. Last Saturday, more than one hundred supporters streamed through the organization’s doors at its Lake Street location to celebrate its silver anniversary.

Since opening, COD has been training young men and women not just in the basics of boxing and fitness, but also in the ways of family and service. Its programs range from amateur boxing and physical fitness to classroom education and peer leadership development.

The COD has also often captured the spotlight for its history-making success stories —including serving as home and support to Amaiya Zafar, the sport’s first sanctioned hijab-wearing boxer, and Jamal James, the now-third-ranked welterweight boxing champion in the country.

Founder and Head Coach Sankara Frazier is clear, however, that the gym is more than a training ground. To its credit, COD members have gone on to become lawyers, police officers, pastors, and others who have found positive alternatives in life.

Coming from a family of community-oriented service — his mother was a teacher, his father a pastor — Frazier said he created COD to fulfill a need in the community.

“I’ve always been proactive about my people since elementary school,” Frazier told the MSR. “I never wanted it to just be boxing. Not everybody can do boxing. I wanted it to be something that could impact the whole community.”

“You never know where the help is going to come from that you need in your life,” Commissioner Peter McLaughlin told the standing-room-only crowd. “What we have here in the Circle of Discipline is the place that provides that kind of help for young men and young women when they need it. It can be the salvation for some. It can be a source of training and inspiration.

“Sports are not going to take you through your whole life,” McLaughlin continued. “But the skills that you learn, the discipline that you learn, the friends that you make and the contacts that you make, and that belief in yourself and the belief in community — that can take you through life. That’s why I’ve been a huge fan… It’s a way to provide a path forward for some young people.”

Stephenetta Harmon/MSR News Sankara Frazier (l) and Jamal James

Talk to members and you’ll find out that the gym’s impact and extended family runs deep. They show up in numbers for members’ high school graduations, special events, and just to show support.

Longtime member Jen Abalan and her son, Isaiah, have been members for the past 10 years. “I came in here to box and work out,” said Jen, who now serves as a volunteer assistant martial arts instructor. “I hate treadmills. I wanted to whoop some butt and learn to defend myself and work out.

“Then, it became this whole family. I was a single mom and they raised my son with me. They set the example — and they still do,” she said.

Another standout example of the COD’s family unit is ranking champion, James. Frazier has trained (or, as he boasts, “raised”) the boxing champ since he was four years old. James’ mother, Sierra Leone Samuels, is also a strong fixture in the center. She went from volunteering while her son trained to becoming an international referee and boxing judge.

“The COD has been more than boxing,” said James. “It’s a whole community; it’s a whole family. I remember and see so many lives being changed.”

The past 25 years haven’t been without struggle. The COD has experienced a few setbacks, including having to give up some of its training space in the building — they now share the building with Hennepin County offices.

“We had this whole building, but I couldn’t sustain it,” acknowledged Frazier. “We have to get a facility. We need our own place.”

In addition to the goal of getting COD its own space, Frazier is also looking towards expanding the gym’s reach. The organization has already developed a training program in upstate Minnesota. “We’ve got a training camp up in Barnum… [It’s] a nice facility. We can go up there and do all of [the youth] training and they can fish, they can hunt, they can grow food. I’ve got a guy who has a doctorate in agriculture and he wants to come in to teach us how to grow organic food.”

Frazier also noted the need for economic support and is looking at new revenue opportunities to support the gym. When asked what he most wanted the community to know as he moves forward, he said, “How hard it is for us to navigate this system to get done what we really are capable of doing.” At the same time, however, he said the community is what powers the organization.

“The people we’re producing are going to come back and give back and watch the community grow and get stronger,” Frazier told the MSR. “The most rewarding thing is all the hard work and sweat we put into them. When they grow, you feel good about it.”