Harris, Now a Trainer, Looks to Bring His Decades of Experience to Motivate and Help Youth Be More Fit and Active
EAST LANSING, Mich. – Kolmarge Harris doesn’t do it for the glory or recognition.
There is a reason why the 43-year-old boxing trainer spends most days hopping around in a ring training, kids in the middle of a small garage behind his friend’s home at 524 Shepard St. in Lansing.
Or why he finds the time, each day, to drive out to his third-floor office in downtown Lansing to run his non-profit Lansing Spartans Youth Organization.
It has little to do with money, and even less to do with praise. He simply does it to make a difference.
“God gave me a purpose,” Harris said. “He gave me a non-profit to help other people. So that’s why I’m here. That’s my goal.”
Harris’s organization, which he started in 2009, aims to help kids who struggle with weight issues and bullying. He dealt with obesity and bullying while growing up on the west side of Chicago in the 1980s, and it’s what pushed him into boxing in the first place.
“That’s why I actually started this non-profit, to help out other kids and make sure they don’t go through what I went through,” Harris said. “I got picked on and bullied because I was a big kid and I was dyslectic, so reading and writing was hard for me…so my daddy got me into boxing.”
His father’s decision immediately proved to be the good one, as Harris, then 7, was exposed to boxing royalty at Windy City Boxing Club in Chicago - one of the cities’ most storied gyms.
“I started with Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, and all those guys – a lot of those guys used to go to the Windy City Boxing Club years ago,” Harris said. “That was different. If you’ve ever been in the gym training with (Floyd) Mayweather and those kinds of guys, and you’re actually training with those guys and are at their camps, and nobody is messing with you, it’s pretty neat.”
Harris would end up encountering Ali again, years later at the same Chicago gym. while on the set of the 2001 film “Ali”.
“That’s where they shot a lot of the sparring for the movie,” Harris said. “He (Ali) came in and talked and showed people some stuff during the process of the movie.”
It was Foreman, however, who left the biggest impression on a young Harris.
“That’s where I got my attitude from,” Harris said. “He (Foreman) told me to always stay positive and put myself around positive people. When people say you can’t do something, keep on doing it and go forward.”
Harris absorbed the advice established fighters like Ali and Foreman gave him, and can now, as a trainer himself, share them with others.
“I sat back and just watched them train. I just watched,” Harris said. “For me being a little kid and to learn that – that was amazing. I just took in the knowledge so if I ever got hurt in boxing and couldn’t fight anymore, I could still help kids and help grownups and educate them.”
But before he was a trainer, he was a trainee. Harris competed as an amateur for 16 years before turning pro at 26, losing his debut light heavyweight bout against Demetrious Johnson on Feb. 2001 at the Atheneum Hotel in Detroit.
“I was cocky,” Harris said. “I didn’t listen to the people that could’ve helped me make even more money than I did. I didn’t handle the money right and I was trying to do my own thing. Remember, you’re young and you don’t have anything – there were people there to help me, but I was bullheaded and cocky and I thought I was better than them.”
“This non-profit is keeping me humble. I’m learning.”
Harris hung up his gloves in 2016, with a 2-17 record. He now focuses his full attention on training others, particularly kids, who Harris said he enjoys teaching the most.
“When you’re dealing with five-year-olds and six-year-olds, if they like you they will listen to you,” he said. “I can mold them – not in a bad way – but to teach them respect. I want to educate them through boxing so when they do get out into the real world, they can know how to hold back any anger they might have.”
The garage on Shepard Street, where Harris holds his training sessions, is called The East Side Boxing Club, which he inherited from longtime friend Tommy Washington. He coached and trained Harris and others in the garage located behind his home, before handing off the reins.
Harris trains out of a 16-by-16 square ring stationed on the right side of the garage. During the winter, he keeps it warm with space heaters.
Along with East Side Boxing Club, Harris also runs the boxing programs at Lansing’s Gier and Letts Community Centers. He wants the Lansing community to get involved, only charging $10 for kids and $30 for adult residents for eight weeks of training.
“I’m teaching you the right way. I’m not putting you through a training (session) and sending you home, because I can do that, but I don’t,” Harris said.
The money Harris makes goes towards building his organization and expanding his gym.
“I put all the money back into the gym,” he said. “When I get little kids who can’t afford it, I will help their parents cover the costs to come here – people are like, ‘Why would you do that?’ I want to help. God gave me something. I’m not hurt, I’m not paralyzed, and if I can help some of these people lose weight and build their confidence up, and help some of these kids – I gotta be the man to do it.”
Harris trains kids from four to 17 and giving each kid a chance during training sessions to lead a warm-up exercise routine before hitting the ring – no matter the age.
“Half of the kids don’t know how to do a workout,” Harris said. “They do the same stuff: push-ups and sit-ups and squats. They’re doing the same things everybody else is doing because that’s all they know. If you get a five-year-old, who’s real nervous and gets picked on, and they get to tell a 14-year-old what to do, and the 14-year-old listens and does it, do you know how much courage that will give that five-year-old?”
Teaching people how to fight may be what Harris is good at, but instilling confidence and teaching valuable life lessons, especially to kids, is what he enjoys the most about his job. And it’s what led him to receive a gold medal for his work at the 2015 World Boxing Council (WBC) convention.
“Having this nonprofit is a lot of work, but I’m doing God’s work to help the youth,” Harris said. “People reach out to me from all over the country to do interviews and different things because I’m doing something. It’s not about boxing. I’m helping, and people love help.”