One of Venroy July's most vivid recollections from when he was a boy growing up in Jamaica was watching boxing with his father, Venry. The November 1992 bout between Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe was especially memorable for the Baltimore lawyer who moonlights as a boxer.
"I remember lying with him and him kind of explaining to me the rules of boxing, the scoring, the 10-9 scoring and how if you get knocked down, you get 8 [points] and just how that worked," recalled the 30-year-old July, who was 9 at the time of the heavyweight fight.
"I remember going through each round and we would talk about it after each round and see how we feel about who won and who was the better fighter and who should get the 10 and who should get the 9. That was really quality time. My mother kind of left us alone and that was our time. That memory served as the reason to try to do something."
What July, a corporate lawyer at the downtown law firm of Hogan Lovells, is doing is trying to recreate for others that father-son time he had with his dad.
With that in mind, July has established the BYB Initiative. BYB is short for Bring Your Boys. July, who founded Hardwork Promotions, which bills itself as "the promotion company built by fighters for fighters," said for each boxing show organized by his company, fathers who bring their sons up to 15 years old will pay just $10 for each child's ticket. The promotion is also open to men who wish to bring brothers, nephews, cousins and mentees who meet the age requirement.
The first event that will feature the BYB Initiative is a boxing match Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Patapsco Arena in Baltimore. July said he hopes to see 50 teens and boys in the 700-seat arena for the event.
"It's been positive," July said of the response from fans. "We've contacted a couple of organizations, and we're still reaching out. We're still a [few weeks] away. But I definitely know that my fraternity [Alpha Phi Alpha] has said that they're definitely going to try to bring some boys. This is something that we're going to do for all of our boxing matches."
Statistical and anecdotal evidence on the importance of male figures in the lives of growing boys abounds, but July said the issue struck close to home when a fraternity brother sought to bring his son to July's last bout, against Rayford Johnson on June 22 at the Frederick Fight Club in Frederick.
"I told him the tickets were $45, and he immediately said, 'I'm not paying $45 for a 10-year-old to come to a match.' That really got to me because people aren't rolling in money," July said. "Things are still kind of tight and you just kind of think, 'How many people are having this kind of reaction? How many people would like to bring their sons to an event, but they're not going to bring them because of the price?' Boys are going to be left at home because fathers are not willing to pay that kind of money. So we just thought that for this, we wanted to create an atmosphere to allow fathers and sons because for me, it was so instrumental."
Rashad Holloway, president of the Baltimore chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, said he plans to bring his 10-year-old son, Rashad Jr., and perhaps his 6-year-old son, Ryland, to the bout at the Patapsco Arena.
"I think it's a very good initiative to bring young boys," said Holloway, a 33-year-old accountant who lives in Baltimore. "I'm also helping with our fraternity to bring our mentoring program there. But I think it's an excellent initiative to get folks engaged in boxing. I'm behind it 100 percent."
July's father, who had attended 15 of his son's 17 professional fights (he is 14-1-2 as a cruiserweight), will not be there. The 61-year-old died Jan. 18, and July said his father's absence is still felt.
"The last conversation I actually had with my father was about boxing," July said. "We had a very deep and long conversation about it. That was interesting to me because, even though boxing had not played a major role in my life for the vast majority of my life, one of the first memories I have of my father is him getting into boxing and certainly the last memory I have of my father is boxing. I just remember the first day after he passed. Going to the boxing ring, it was weird because I was so used to him being ringside at my matches. So with all those things together, I wanted to do something. That was such a good time for us, and I want to provide it for others."
If you go
WHEN: Sept. 28 (first bell 7 p.m.; doors open 6 p.m.)
WHERE: Patapsco Arena, 3301 Annapolis Road, Baltimore, 410-354-1338
TICKETS: $50 VIP, $35 general admission (at the door), $20 for public safety officials, $10 as part of the Bring Your Boys initiative
INFORMATION: Hardwork Promotions (hardworkpromotions.com) Champion Boxing & Fitness (301-255-0011)
Venroy July, 14-1-2 (6 KOs), St. Catherine, Jamaica (cruiserweight/8 rounds)
Jessie Nicklow, 22-3-0 (8 KOs), Baltimore (middleweight/6 rounds)
James Stevenson, 19-0-0 (12 KOs), Baltimore (welterweight/6 rounds)
Mario Flores, 2-1-1 (2 KOs), Washington (cruiserweight/4 rounds)