The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, world boxing champion Lamont Peterson’s opponent was hunger. Lamont, his brother Anthony — also a professional boxer — and their trainer, Barry Hunter, volunteered to help serve at So Others Might Eat’s lunch program that day.
SOME has been providing meals, housing and healthcare across the District since 1970. The organization manages 18 long-term housing programs and served 433,811 meals in 2013. Peterson, 30, recalls eating there as a child.
“I know that all those times that we were homeless and moving house to house … If it weren’t for these guys, we wouldn’t have anything,” Peterson said.
The holiday season is a wakeup call for generosity in the hearts of many District residents, and a service tradition for the Petersons.
“Thanksgiving to Christmas is our most in-demand time of the year to volunteer,” explained Seneca Wood, the program director for SOME’s Dining Room and non-monetary donations. “The great thing about this period of time is that it allows for the potential for new volunteers to see what we do and continue their service into the New Year and beyond.”
While the Petersons won’t be volunteering at SOME regularly, they are committed to helping the city’s homeless community. Before meals were served, Safeway delivered over $5,500 worth of kitchen staples Lamont and Anthony purchased to support SOME’s food pantry.
“The Peterson brothers have been unbelievably generous and we cannot thank them enough for their support,” Wood said. “That amount of food may be utilized for 3-5 weeks in the food pantry.”
An estimated 150 people came to each of the two lunch services the Petersons and Coach Hunter helped serve.
When Lamont was 10 years old, their father went to prison on drug charges. His mother tried to carry on but broke under the pressure of being a single parent for a large family. She eventually found solace in alcohol and the family soon became homeless.
“Most of the time we pretty much took care of Mom. We followed her around and made sure she had something to eat,” Peterson said.
Lamont and Anthony were among the youngest of 12 siblings. Their oldest sister was able to take in some of the younger sisters, while the other girls went to their grandfather. With no one else in a position to help, the younger brothers stuck together on the streets.
“Some nights we slept in bus stations, sometimes we slept in the street, sometimes we might just walk all night,” Peterson said. “If someone left their car unlocked, we’d crawl in for the night and leave out early.”
The Peterson brothers stayed at two “shelter homes” in as many years. Lamont describes them as difficult to stay in because of strict regulations. An infractino such as disregarding curfew could lead to being turned away.
“There were a lot of kids in our same situation,” Peterson said.
This year’s Point in Time Count recorded nine unaccompanied youth in the metro area, one living completely unsheltered. The annual enumeration is part of a national effort mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to capture a snapshot of how many people experience homelessness on any given night. “Unaccompanied” youth are minors who lack parental, foster, or institutional care. Parents who are homeless and under 18 are considered unaccompanied youth.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ report on the 2014 count explains that unaccompanied youth are extremely hard to track accurately because “methods often used for counting homeless adults don’t accurately capture survival strategies particularly common to youth, such as being mobile and transient, latching on to friends and staying in groups, or trying to hide in plain sight. Many homeless youth don’t want to be found because they may be fleeing abuse or fear being placed in foster care.”
Additionally, the 2014 count found 3,795 homeless families (with adults), 29 of them unsheltered. This number of families is 626 more than the previous year and 50 percent more than 2010. The situation has been labeled a crisis by city officials and advocates alike.
“We have 409 units to serve 840 families. That spells disaster!” Jim Graham, Ward 1 council member and chair of the Committee on Human Services, said in criticism of this year’s Winter Plan.
Between Sasha Bruce Youthwork and Covenant House Washington, 63 emergency beds are available for unaccompanied youth in the metro area. According to Sasha Bruce’s Communications Coordinator, Lauren Sotolongo, the number of beds in use fluctuates from night to night because “the youth can be in and out, depending on their situation.”
The Peterson brothers moved often, from one rough neighborhood to another. Lamont learned to defend himself fighting in the street.
“I was young: eight, nine, ten… I’d always end up fighting older kids,” Peterson said.
And that’s exactly how coach Barry Hunter found him.
An older kid named Patrice “Boogie” Harris observed Lamont, 10, defend his brother, Anthony, against a 14-year old, and recognized Lamont’s potential. Harris, who was keen on the Petersons’ sister Takisha at the time, and is their brother-in-law today, was learning to box in Coach Barry Hunter’s HeadBangers program, and he brought Lamont and Anthony to the coach’s attention. When Lamont and Anthony joined HeadBangers, Coach Hunter was teaching a bunch of kids in borrowed space at community rec centers. Hunter has taught District youth how to box for over 20 years. Today, HeadBangers Promotions works out of state-of-the-art facilities renovated by the D.C. Department of Public Works in the Bald Eagle Recreation Center, 100 Joliette Street SW.
Peterson says he knew at their first meeting that Barry Hunter was different. Having grown up in a rough neighborhood with a seldom-involved father himself, Hunter has worked tirelessly to keep children from delinquency on the streets through positive development in his athletic program.
“He taught us more than boxing; he taught us how to be men. We had no guidance, no adults. He gave us direction,” Peterson said.
Lamont and Anthony took two years off from boxing when they were placed into the foster care system. After several moves, they were returned to their father’s custody upon his release on parole. Hunter remains Lamont and Anthony’s trainer, and they are his greatest boxing successes. While HeadBangers continues to train youth, Hunter is also responsible for promoting and training the likes of the Petersons, Tony Thompson, and others. Boogie Harris also stuck with HeadBangers, and now is employed as a trainer.
The HeadBangers family is tight-knit, having grown up together. Last Christmas Lamont and Anthony organized the gym to cook dinner for several families they invited over from D.C. General Family Shelter. The brothers had recently spoken to shelter residents about healthy eating habits and were inspired to make a donation.
“There were a lot of kids there,” said Peterson as he remembered visiting the shelter.
Over 40 children attended the dinner at Bald Eagle. Each was given several presents from their Christmas lists, and their parents received $50 gift cards.
Lamont Peterson holds the International Boxing Federation (IBF)’s Junior Welterweight World Champion title, with ten years as an amateur and ten years as a professional under his belt. Through their careers, the formerly homeless brothers from Southeast have seen most of the United States, Europe, and parts of South America.
“You’re pretty much competing against the world,” is how Peterson described his work. He has been fighting against the world since he was eight.
In 2012, Lamont Peterson’s integrity was called into question. When he was preparing for a rematch with Amir Khan, whose defeat won Peterson the IBF Welterweight title in December 2011, a routine drug test appeared to reveal abnormally high amounts of testosterone in Peterson. The match was cancelled and Peterson’s title was under scrutiny, although the IBF would later report “these levels would not have enhanced Lamont Peterson’s training for or performance during the bout.”
Peterson had been experiencing fatigue and received a soy implant from his doctor to remedy the situation. Nonetheless, Peterson lost over a year’s worth of fights to public doubt.
He’s glad to be back in the ring, and hopes his experience will lead to clearer drug-testing standards for the sport. Peterson retained his World Champion title and most recently defended it against New York contender Eric Santana in August of this year. The brothers’ ambition is unwavering: Anthony is seeking a Lightweight title shot; and when asked if he has any more titles in his sights, Lamont said simply “I would like to have all of them.”
But where were the Peterson brothers and Coach Hunter just weeks before Lamont would dethrone champion Amir Khan? During the last week of November, 2011, the trio could be found handing out food baskets in a church hall with the late Councilmember Marion Barry, speaking with at-risk youth at Martha’s Table, and serving meals at Central Union Mission.
“My time, my money — it’s no problem. I just enjoy doing it,” Peterson said.
Peterson’s passion for giving back comes second to love for his 5-year old daughter, who he promises will never risk his own childhood struggles. Lamont and Anthony recently shared their story to advocates and homeless youth staying at Covenant House Washington as part of the organization’s Sleep Out vigil. The Petersons believe it is important to tell other people in tough situations what they’ve been through and encourage them to keep fighting.
“I love boxing, but I’m not here for boxing,” Lamont Peterson said.