Cameron Middle students cap off year focused on college goals with talk by ESPY-winning boxer Dewey Bozella
By Janel Shoun-Smith on 3/4/2013
Capping off the third year of the Cameron Middle School's partnership with Lipscomb University – a year highlighted by activities to encourage college goals among students – Cameron and Lipscomb are hosting a talk by Dewey Bozella, a New York boxer who fought his first professional boxing match at age 52, after spending 26 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
More than 250 Cameron seventh- and eighth-graders will come to Lipscomb’s Collins Alumni Auditorium to hear Bozella, the ESPY 2011 Arthur Ashe Courage Award winner, speak at 10 a.m. on Friday, March 8. Later, the students will enjoy lunch and a question-and-answer session with Bozella and take a campus tour.
“Bozella will share with our students how important it is to just keep going and never give up no matter what cards you’re dealt,” said Chris Hames, principal of Cameron Middle School. “His slogan is, ‘Never let fear determine who you are. Never let where you come from determine where you are going.’ That’s such a powerful message for our students to hear as they face numerous challenges every day. We want them to consider college as a real possibility and Dewey’s story is perfect to show them they can overcome any challenge if they just don’t give up.”
Bozella overcame a troubled childhood and his long wrongful imprisonment to earn his GED and bachelor’s and master’s degrees and to start his own foundation working to build a boxing gym to train youth in the discipline and perseverance of boxing. He went on to fight his first professional boxing match in Los Angeles in 2011.
Bozella’s talk is part of a series of college tour days Lipscomb has hosted for Cameron students as part of its three-year partnership to provide professional development for teachers and other educational services for the Cameron students.
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Cameron Middle students have visited campus several times over the past two years, eating lunch in the dining hall, touring the campus and talking with College of Education students and first-generation college students currently studying at Lipscomb. The Lipscomb Lady Bisons basketball team held a clinic for Cameron basketball players; first-generation college students and officials from the Office of Inter-Cultural Engagement visited Cameron to discuss college dreams concurrently in English, Spanish and Arabic, and College of Education students have visited Cameron to hold a math and reading night for students and parents, said Julie Simone, Lipscomb’s on-site liaison at Cameron Middle.
“There is a constant flow of Lipscomb people in the school, including a literacy professor from the College of Education,” said Simone. “The whole school has made literacy a top priority this year, with a goal for every student to become a proficient reader and college-and-career-ready.”
A big part of that goal has been a focus on college readiness and attainment for all Cameron students, said Candice McQueen, dean of Lipscomb's College of Education, which was contracted by the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools in 2010 to support teachers through on-site professional development to meet the specific improvement needs of the school during Cameron’s transition to a charter school.
“Early in the transition we focused our efforts on academic improvement through teacher support and training. We have seen steady gains in Cameron’s Tennessee Value Added Assessment System (TVAAS) scores,” said McQueen. “In addition, we are focusing on the social and emotional development of our Cameron students. One way we have done this is to show them the pathway to college and to let them know that going to college can be a reality for them.”
Bozella’s inspirational story, covered by national media such as the New York Times, USA Today, ABC, CBS and ESPN, will be perfect for the students who can relate to his early life of turmoil and how he overcame the gut punches of life, McQueen said.
About Dewey Bozella
As a young man, Bozella showed promise at the training camp of Floyd Patterson, a former Undisputed Heavyweight Champion. In 1983, his life took a dramatic turn when he was convicted of a murder he did not commit. Sentenced to 20 years to life in Sing Sing Prison, Bozella maintained his innocence and exhausted every appeal. He was offered more than four separate chances for an early release if he would only admit guilt and show remorse, but Bozella consistently refused to accept freedom under such conditions.
Instead of becoming embittered, he became a model prisoner, earning his GED and bachelor’s and master’s degrees, working as a counselor for other prisoners and finding strength and purpose through boxing, becoming the light heavyweight champion of Sing Sing.
Each week in prison Bozella wrote to the Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals. Eventually a powerful New York law firm took on his case and uncovered new evidence that exonerated him. He was finally released in October 2009. Today, Bozella devotes his life to working to rehabilitate recently released prisoners and to train kids in boxing.
Bozella was honored by athletes from around the world for his courage and perseverance with the ESPY 2011 Arthur Ashe Courage Award. Past recipients of the award include South African President Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali and Billie Jean King.
Bozella had always harbored a dream to have just one professional fight. On Oct. 15, 2011, he finally achieved his dream when he fought and beat opponent, Larry Hopkins, 30, of Houston, in his first and only professional boxing match.
Bozella has now founded the Dewey Bozella Foundation, dedicated to building a boxing gym in the troubled city of Newburgh, N.Y., not far from where Bozella served his prison sentence. The gym will serve to train children in the discipline, courage and perseverance found through boxing.