- Faith & Family
Clayton Powell, 53, grew up in Bronzeville and took his first karate lesson in 1971. But unlike many youth during those days who were only momentarily enamored with Bruce Lee and the martial arts, Powell, a Jackson High graduate, stuck with it.
In 1992, the 4th Degree Black Belt began teaching free classes at Athalie Range Park [525 NW 62nd St.] and but for a brief hiatus, has been there ever since. Today the program continues to flourish with approximately 30 boys and girls, ages six and above, meeting twice a week with their “sensei” and his team of instructors. They learn basic maneuvers in self-defense but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“Mostly it’s conditioning but they can’t participate if their grades aren’t up to par,” Powell said. “It’s also about discipline, self respect and teamwork. You have kids whose mothers say they can’t handle them — they’re getting into fights or won’t obey them. Some of them have anger problems. We find ways to help them cope with their living situations and with life. Discipline is the key to karate and other martial arts forms. They learn how to respect adults and each other. We think it makes for a better future.”
Some of Powell’s former students have returned and now work with him — others have gone on to do positive things in their professional lives and in their communities. All of his current staff, including Sensei Dane, Sensei Kokami and Sensei Brenda, have put years of study into karate — from 15 to 41 years of hard work and dedication. Now they’re passing it on to children that need positive structure and order in a world where things often seem chaotic.
“For some of them, I am the first man they’ve encountered and my voice and appearance is something that they have to get used to,” Powell said. “It’s what many of them have longed for and needed.”
From the youngest student, four-year-old Brenda Harvard, struggling with her belt and the rest of her uniform, to the older students who were entering the room and quickly finding their spots on the mats for warm-ups, it was evident that they all wanted to be there. But what are they learning and what do they hope to accomplish when they become adults? Here’s what they said:
Brenda Harvard, 4: “I like the class. I want to be a doctor.”
Paris Orle, 7: “It’s fun and I can learn with my sister because she’s in the class too. I want to be a karate teacher.”
Javonni Rolle, 10: “Our sensei knows how to train us well. I would like to teach others too.”
Floyd Walker, 8: “Sensei treats me like a man. I want to be a police officer.”
Ronisha Gibbs, 10: “The rolls and breaks we do in class are fun. I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up – not yet.”
Mylik McClary, 7: “When you move up in rank and change your belt color, it makes you feel proud. I want to be on a SWAT team.”
Carlos Bee, 13, started to answer our questions, but then Powell rattled off a phrase of commands — it was time for the next lesson in discipline. He, along with the other late arrivals, would have to wait for another time. After all, there were lessons to learn.
For a nominal fee and with a parent’s permission, children can still join the class. A physical and other paperwork must be completed.
By D. Kevin McNeir