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Relevant issues for this story, separated by commas (eg. war, race, gender):
Poverty, Race
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North America
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Boxing, Florida, Sports, Gainesville, USA
A short summary for this story that will go on the stories page (1-2 sentences):
Since he was 17, Irvin Smith has trained to be an Olympic boxer. Now 20 years old, Smith funds his boxing by working the night shift at Wal-Mart and finding sponsorships wherever he can. Living with a paralyzed uncle in an impoverished community infamous for crack, crime and prostitution, Smith hopes to make a better life for himself through success in boxing.
Roberto Westbrook

2002 — student award of excellence

Irvin Smith lives in east Gainesville. He is a 20 year old black man in an impoverished, predominantly black community. “It’s hard sometimes,” Smith said, “working 40 hours a week at Wal-Mart for a few bucks an hour. I’m always getting a ride from a friend with a car.” Smith, who lives with his paralyzed uncle, gets home from work at 8 a.m., sleeps until 3 p.m. and then runs to his trainer.

Since he was 17, he has trained with Leon Bradley to be an Olympic boxer. Bradley worries about the problems that Smith and other poor east Gainesville youth can get into. “You see them kids drinking the 40 oz. on the corner, driving around in their big cars,” Bradley said. “If a guy can’t beat you with fists, he comes back with a gun. Bam! Bam!”

Smith hopes that boxing will bring him a brighter future than what Gainesville and Alachua County seem to offer. According to the 1998 Florida Statistical abstract, the poverty rate in Alachua County is 20.2 percent. University of Florida sociology professor Leonard Beeghley says it’s hard to overcome the obstacles that poverty presents. “People are choosing between limited alternatives. They have lousy schools. They don’t have access to medical treatment. They’re stuck in awful housing. You can’t make it on $7 or $8 an hour.”

Seven dollars an hour is what Smith earns at Wal-Mart. Housing with his uncle is rent-free and his mother pays for his insurance. Many of his friends are not so lucky. “Some of my friends, they get kicked out by their parents and get a place, 10 people in one place. One of my cousins deals drugs now,” Smith said. Close to his home are “places with rock-bottom rents that can be leased on a week-by-week basis. [They are] crash pads for drug dealers and prostitutes,” wrote Tim Lockette recently in the Gainesville Sun.

While some of his childhood friends slip into trouble, Smith is working hard to find sponsors to fund his boxing. Large matches that count toward the rankings are usually in south Florida or further away in other states. One man from his church has financed some of the travel expenses. Smith hopes that success at the Golden Glove Tournament on May 3rd will rally some more sponsorships.     

For the next few weeks, I will document the life of Irvin Smith, a man with dreams, as he struggles to reach them in a poor, down trodden community. I will document him training with meager equipment, working at Wal-Mart and spending time with friends. I hope my photos will show both his spirit for achievement and the environment which is so difficult for many people to overcome. Perhaps the photos will enlighten middle-class Gainesville residents about a neighborhood they avoid and fear. Maybe someone will want to help Irvin.

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Anxious about the upcoming Golden Glove tournament, Bradley, 53, interrupts Smith at the punching bag to show him how an opponent could undermine his defense. Roberto Westbrook/Alexia Foundation
“I’ve known Jermaine my whole life,” says Smith, “we don’t see each other much because we are both doing our thing, but when we do we’re still good friends.” Smith says he has never tried the cigarettes, alcohol or drugs that some of his childhood friends consume today. Roberto Westbrook/Alexia Foundation
Smith peeks curiously out the window of a friend’s apartment after hearing a sound. Kennedy Homes, where some of Smith’s friends live, is notorious for crime and crack. In the 1960’s it was one of Gainesville’s first low-income residential facilities. Roberto Westbrook/Alexia Foundation
Smith hoses down the driveway and waters the plants outside his uncle’s home. No one has driven his uncle’s car since he was paralyzed by a gun attack, which Smith suspects was related to a dispute over a woman. Roberto Westbrook/Alexia Foundation
Upon ending a shift that started at 10 p.m. the previous day, Smith falls asleep in the Wal-Mart parking lot. “I get off work at 7 a.m., and then I wait for my ride,” says Smith. Roberto Westbrook/Alexia Foundation
The money Smith earns at Wal-Mart is not enough to meet his proper dietary requirements and compete in distant boxing tournaments. “I’m lucky to have a sponsor from church who gives me money,” says Smith. Roberto Westbrook/Alexia Foundation
Using a broken stick, Smith records the number of repetitions during his workout. Roberto Westbrook/Alexia Foundation
Training exercises like jumping rope become more and more strenuous as the Florida weather heats up. Smith stays hydrated and maintains his focus on a future in boxing. Roberto Westbrook/Alexia Foundation