A former boxer from Oak Cliff is back home after college to help inspire the children in his community.
Adan Gonzales is helping mentor more than 200 children.
"Someone smells like pancakes, who had pancakes today?" Gonzales asked a group of children jogging around a dirt parking lot on a recent morning.
Volunteers converted his parents' backyard in Oak Cliff into a practice ground for boxing. Hanging bags and setting up table, their goal is to build athletes and, more importantly, scholars.
"Education is freedom," Gonzales told the group of kids at the beginning of their weekly practice. "That is the only thing that's going to grant you the ability to be able to think, act and do as you wish for yourself. You guys hear me?"
The children respond in unison, "yes."
Inside his parents' home, Gonzalez toured his childhood room.
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"It's been awhile since I've actually stared at these," he said, looking at the walls lined with success stories.
"This is when I won the national championship," said Gonzales, as he motioned toward a trophy he earned while boxing for Georgetown University.
"Every recognition is a reminder of the responsibility that I have to make sure that it doesn't stay on the walls, that each opportunity I'm able to obtain I'm able to replicate it for other kids," Gonzales said.
His parents, both immigrants from Mexico, still proudly display their son's college acceptance letter.
"I was trying to break the cycle of survival," Gonzales said, "trying to demonstrate to my dad, who's a janitor, and my mom, that works in a warehouse, that we too can aspire for higher education."
After his first year at Georgetown, Gonzales started a non-profit organization called the Si Se Puede Network. The group has transformed a vacant lot into a neighborhood soccer field, collected luggage for low-income children hoping to go to college, and hosts events like soccer, Zumba and boxing up to six nights a week.
"The idea behind boxing is it teaches you to persevere," Gonzales said.
And it feels good to improve in everything, including, "the jump rope," said one of the young boxers, named Daniel. "Because like I can now do it so fast. Before, I could not do it," Daniel said.
It's a seemingly small, yet significant accomplishment, thanks in part to the people, like Gonzales, who are giving their time to their community.
"When you believe and you invest in our communities, we're going to thrive, and we're hungry for that opportunity," Gonzales said.
He is beginning his Master's degree program at Harvard University this fall.