NEWARK, NJ — Featherweight boxing champion Shakur Stevenson received a raucous welcome home on Saturday evening at Newark Symphony Hall, where the 19-year-old Newark native relished high praise from fans and officials.
Stevenson’s return to his hometown marked the official recognition and celebration of his October WBO win against Joet Gonzalez, who lost to Stevenson after 12 rounds by unanimous decision. Stevenson, also a silver medal winner in the bantamweight division for the United States in the 2016 Summer Olympics, maintains a 13-0 professional record.
“To me, you won as soon as you got in the ring and I see Newark. You won for 300,000 residents of this town, for hundreds of young black and Latino boys who struggle in these streets every day, who are two instances from jail or death in these communities,” Mayor Ras Baraka said. “When they see you they get to see somebody who looks like them, that’s successful and that’s growing. You’re always going to be our champ here in the city of Newark.”
Baraka awarded a proclamation to Stevenson on behalf of the city that forever ties him to Newark’s historical records. Gov. Phil Murphy, who could not be in attendance, also issued a proclamation honoring Stevenson for being “a source of pride and an enduring inspiration for his eight younger siblings, his beloved Newark community and for the state of New Jersey.”
Applauding Stevenson’s accomplishments, New Jersey Boxing Hall of Famer Nasir Graham took the opportunity to highlight the city’s expanding boxing program and the importance of the sport in cities like Newark. Under Barka’s and Graham’s leadership, the program is currently available to youth at three locations with another gym on the way at JFK Recreation Center.
“The youth want our attention, that’s the bottom line. When you see [the youth in boxing programs], they’re not doing bad things in the street. They’re trying to focus on this. That’s why the mayor put these gyms inside Newark.” said Graham, who serves as the city’s boxing program coordinator.
Boxing, dubbed a poor man’s sport by fighting legend Sugar Ray Leonard, has long been a means for youth in underserved communities to find a healthy out-of-school activity that encourages goal-setting, physical fitness and discipline. Stevenson’s success is not only a source of pride for the city but an inspiration to young Newarkers who struggle to find direction.
Yoell “Boy Boy” Cooper, a 12-year-old amateur ranking no. 1 in the county, took to the podium to congratulate Stevenson and express what it means to see him representing Newark in the ring.
“It’s very inspiring to have a kid from Newark have a title as a top athlete like Mike Tyson or Floyd Mayweather. I really look up to Shakur Stevenson and his grandfather doing all their good work. It makes me strive to represent Newark, where I’m from,” Cooper said.
Former world champion Mark Breland stopped by for a surprise visit, taking to the stage to deliver sage wisdom to Stevenson. He encouraged the young world champion titleholder to “keep his eyes open wide” rather than keep his eyes on the prize to avoid being misled as he progresses in his career.
“I’m happy to have all your support. Every time I fight, I fight for Newark,” Stevenson said, appearing moved by the outpouring of love from his city. “I wear Newark on my sleeve, on my back, I wear it everywhere. Whenever people talk to me, they know I’m from Newark.”