Eugene ‘Thunder’ Hughes on the Midtown Youth Academy by Danny Harris

Eugene, right, is pictured with Jeffrey, one of the Midtown Youth Academy’s boxing coaches and a graduate of Dr. Hughes’ program.

Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. In September, he launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. Every day, People’s District presents a different Washingtonian sharing his or her insights on everything from Go Go music to homelessness to fashion to politics. You can read his previous columns here.

‘I was born over in a neighborhood that they tore down to build the Rayburn House Office Building. I was one of 13 children. We had an outhouse, oil lamps, an ice box, and had to chop wood for the stove. It was a different time then. When I was just a kid, maybe nine years old, I started boxing. I turned out to be pretty good and won pretty much everything there was to win in the world, from the golden gloves to the worldwide all-service tournament four years in a row when I was in the Marines.

“After I got discharged, I was out in California and went down to Watts. There, I joined the Black Panthers and was one of the first members. We were trying to reorganize Watts and let black people know that they were human. We made our own schools and built a parallel community to the white one. But, you know how folks be, those on the outside got real jealous and mad and came after us because we weren’t going to live under them no more. When the people from the outside came in, we ended up burning Watts down. Many of us went to jail for the burning. I got four years, but got out in 18 months on good behavior.

“While I was in jail, I sent out an application to the University of Connecticut because I was still under the G.I. Bill. They let me in and I studied to be a lawyer because I wanted to get into the structure and turn things around. Even though I wanted to join the establishment, you never stop being a Black Panther. You always got to keep on.

Continues after the jump.

“I ended up working on a few things up in Connecticut and organizing for a bunch of issues. After a while, I got tired and wanted to come home to Washington. When I came back, I became a roving leader in the Department of Recreation for Mayor Washington. When Barry came in, I worked with him, too. I grew up with Sharon Pratt Kelly in my younger days and became her personal bodyguard when she was mayor. I have worked with Williams and Fenty, too, to help get kids off of the streets and drugs and into college.

“While I was doing this, I also opened the first Midtown Youth Academy to teach reading, math, and boxing over forty years ago. I worked with kids to show them that they were somebody and could be anything they wanted to. On Sundays, I took ’em to church with me to celebrate God. The more kids we got, the more I looked for volunteers to come and help us. We believe in each one, teach one here. A lot of kids have come out of our program and opened businesses and been successful leaders of the community. In fact, I own this building, which we have been in for over 21 years, because some of the kids that I trained turned professional and helped me to buy this building. Some of the kids that came through here are people like Sugar Ray Leonard. Even the ones who made it will tell you that there is no easy road in life.

“Now, we are the oldest boxing club in the city. People always tell me that I should change things here and make this place look new. I want to keep it the same way, so it is just like the people who trained here remember it. This is where they came from. They always need to remember that.”

The Midtown Youth Academy is located at 2206 14th St. NW.

7 Comment

  • I have always wondered what the story was behind this place, and behind the men I see when I have a chance to peek through the door on my way up 14th St. Thanks for sharing!

  • I really enjoyed reading this uplifting story – thanks for sharing.

    As for the series – keep ’em coming!

  • Amazing that this guy went from burning down Watts to helping kids. I grew up in LA and Watts, like the 1968 riots here, will have a lasting impression on the city forever.

    He seems to speak about it with pride though, which I am against. Destroying a neighborhood out of anger only makes things worse. I don’t know one city that was burned by riots and actually came back as a better place.

  • Yeah – I’m with Reggie. If he’s so proud of destroying a neighborhood, is that what he’s really teaching these kids? That if the people want to “keep you down,” destroy the place?. And that whole nonsense really needs to go – nobody cares what you do enough to want to keep you down. Your bad decisions, though? That’s probably what is really keeping you down.

    • do you actually know what he meant by “keep you down”?
      ask him what it was like, and exactly why he did what he did. then be the judge.

  • Love the series! Keep ’em coming.

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