It is not every day in Baton Rouge that a teenage amateur boxer meets his hero.
Henry Allen, 15, met his Saturday afternoon when undefeated professional boxer Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr. visited the Louisiana Leadership Institute to talk to its students about achieving their goals and realizing their potential no matter the obstacles.
Allen said the main thing he learned from hearing Mayweather’s talk was that with hard work and dedication, “you can achieve anything, can overcome any obstacle.”
Mayweather, along with actor Jackie Long and recording artist William Ray Norwood Jr. — better known by his stage name, Ray J — visited Baton Rouge on Saturday with a message for the group of children, some of whom come from difficult backgrounds, about inspiration and hope and that they can come out of their situation and accomplish their goals and dreams.
“It was always a goal of mine and a dream of mine, once I got to a certain level, if I ever got to a certain plateau, to give back to the children,” Mayweather said.
“It’s not always about the money, it’s about giving back your time,” Mayweather added, saying he and his friends sponsor many events a year for charity.
Mayweather took questions on various topics from the almost 100 people in the audience and connected with them on a personal level. He recounted how he rose and learned from the struggles of his well-documented childhood and his contentious relationship with his father and former boxer, Floyd Mayweather Sr.
“I beat all odds,” Mayweather Jr. said. “My main thing was just to stay focused and believe. A lot of times, you would hear, ‘The father wasn’t home, he couldn’t make it’ or ‘The mother wasn’t home.’”
Mayweather’s professional record is 43 wins and no defeats. His amateur boxing record is 84 wins against six losses.
He said looking back at his amateur career now, he is satisfied with how it went because he learned lessons every time out.
“Sometimes a loss is not always a loss,” Mayweather said. “If you can learn from it and bounce back stronger, it was a win.”
Mayweather is a five-division world champion with championships in eight weight classes. He currently holds the World Boxing Council Welterweight and World Boxing Association Super welterweight titles. As an amateur, he won Golden Gloves titles at three different weight classes in 1993, 1994 and 1996. He also was the bronze medalist in the featherweight division at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
Mayweather deftly avoided any questions about his next fight or the ever-elusive fight with Manny Pacquiao multiple times during his Saturday visit, saying he was in the city to talk to and about the children, not about his career.
Cleo Fields, who set up the institute in 1998, said it was extraordinary to have an athlete of Mayweather’s caliber come and speak to the children about overcoming odds.
“I could preach every Wednesday to the kids about how you can be anything you want to be,” Fields said. “I can do all the self-motivating, teach them about self-motivation all I want, but at the end of the day, I always try to bring people in who can put a real face on ‘You can overcome’ and ‘You can be anything you want to be.’”
Barbara Alexander, 56, of Dallas, who was accompanied to Saturday’s gathering by her stepson Baton Rouge lawyer Al Perkins, said she wishes more celebrities such as Mayweather would take time out to speak to children about their struggles.
“A lot of these children can relate to the same thing as he spoke about — not having both parents, parents being on drugs or in jail. And they can see that there is a future even if the parental involvement is not there,” Alexander said. “There is a future for them anyway.”
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