Peace & Gloves boxing event shows the power of communal togetherness in Reading

Aug. 15—It proved to be a banner day in Reading Saturday as many came out for Star City Boxing's Peace & Gloves event at Fifth and Penn streets. The block party that started at 1 p.m. and lasted well into the evening consisted of 15 amateur boxing matches, as well as musical performances and a car show.

Reading High senior Eric Martinez, 17, won the main event by judges' decision against Dennis Thompson, 16, from Philadelphia. The three-round fight that started around 7:30 p.m. drew a large crowd, including Reading Mayor Eddie Moran.

Afterwards, Martinez was swarmed by dozens of friends and family eagerly awaiting to take a picture with the champ and his new title belt.

"This is everything I wished for and everything I've dreamed of," Martinez said. "Everybody came out to show love, and it felt real good to have a lot of gyms from Reading (participating). So it felt really good to be a part of such a big event, and to win as well, that tops everything."

Boxers aged 9-29 from East Reading Boxing Club, King's Gym, JMV Boxing, Reading Extreme Boxing and Star City Boxing made up the local fighters in attendance. In total, Reading boxers went 9-3.

The main event featured two ranked fighters. Martinez is fourth in the nation in USA Boxing's Youth Men's Rankings at 57 kg (125 pounds), while Thompson is eighth at 54 kg (119 pounds).

"Today I had to bite down and really show what I could do," Martinez said. "The kid (Thompson) was real tough. He made me fight. When one thing wasn't working, I had to adjust. I'm an adjuster; whatever I must fix I will do."

Martinez, grateful for the outpouring of support, took the time to thank the attendees and said that he would like the day to serve as a positive example.

"I want to thank everybody that came out," he said. "I really appreciate the City of Reading; we all brought each other together so that's what I want to see more of from now on. We got a real beautiful city when we all come together."

Frankie Diaz, a 20-year old from JMV Boxing fighting at 125 pounds, was another hometown favorite who won his bout by decision against an out-of-town boxer. Like Martinez, Diaz received a warm reception from friends and family after the fight.

"It was a good feeling fighting in front of my hometown," Diaz said. "We got the win and I am victorious. I want to thank God, my mom, my coaching and my gym team. Without them none of this would have been possible."

While the boxers provided the lion's share of the entertainment, local food vendors and businesses lined the street with their own interesting stories to tell.

Star City owners Alex and Monica Betances had said they hoped the day would be a chance to highlight positive aspects of the community. Peace & Gloves did not disappoint as close to 15 vendors and 15 sponsors set up stands showing off successful small businesses and nonprofits operating in Reading.

"An event like this can show what can happen when a community comes together," Alex Betances said. "The City of Reading is a good city. We got good people here, and this is evidence. We're here in peace, with a lot of love, to come in and share a good time. And that's what it's all about. You know, if everything starts with love, we would have less problems in the world."

Alexis Hallums, owner of Lex's Barbeque and Lex's Bail Bonds, was on hand, with his smoker providing barbecue for the event. Hallums, who said he uses the profits from his bail bonds business to fund Lex's Barbeque as a nonprofit, sponsors boxers from Star City and King's Gym as part of his philanthropic efforts.

"It's all about giving back; you can't take none of this with you," Hallums said. "Success is made to actually help other people. At the end of the day that's what it's all about; me and my team come out and donate our time.

"My bail bond business is the one that pushes the funds through for the barbeque. (With) the barbeque business, 100%, we give back everything that we make to the community. So it goes to our scholarship programs, it goes to our coat drive with Glenside Elementary School; we also have a feed-the-homeless (drive) that we do with Hope Rescue Mission."

One of his scholarship recipients is Maximiliano Baez, a Star City boxer and Muhlenberg grad.

"I'm giving away eight scholarships on Aug. 23 at DeCarlo's parking lot," Hallums said. "We're going to grill out there as well. It's a $500 scholarship. One of the boxers, Max, Alex Betances' nephew, he actually won one of the scholarships and I'm pretty sure he's going to use it for boxing materials and things of that nature."

Cassandra Diaz, owner of Luxury River Design, exercises at Star City Boxing and took Saturday as an opportunity to showcase her unique line of personalized furniture, which incorporates memorabilia into different woodworking designs. She explained why she was proud to be a part of the festivities.

"It's great," Diaz said. "I'm from the city, so to be able to give something back to my community, something that I made, it's really great to be a part of something special like this. The Betances are very close friends with my father; I've known them my entire life. I workout at the gym and I absolutely love it. I'm not going to stop."

Local author Edward R. Munoz gave away free copies of his book, "The Underdog's Code to Riches: The Secret Code Everyday People Use to Win at Life and Amass Riches," in the spirit of inspiring youth to a better path in life.

He said he believed inner-city youth would be able to learn and relate to the story told in his novel.

"When you live in the inner city, you're exposed to doing the wrong thing; temptations, drugs, the streets, not going to school," said Munoz, a Reading resident originally from New York. "You become a product of your environment. And with this book, a lot of people from this city, but (also) any city, can relate to it because they can see that there are better ways to be mentored. And if you make better choices, your life goes in different directions."

Prior to the main event, Star City Boxing was given a commendation award by Reading City Council to honor its dedication and commitment to improving the quality of life for residents of Reading and Berks County.

With victories in more ways than one, Peace & Gloves accomplished what it set out to do in uniting the city for a day of friendly competition and camaraderie .

"The community has won today," Alex Betances said. "I hope that this is an example of more future events to come. All these people, all these businesses are being impacted. You know, we got a couple 100 people here and they're spending money; economically it makes sense.

"As long as we keep everything peaceful and safe, the sky's the limit with what we're going to do with downtown Reading."