Flint boxer Claressa Shields sending 1,000 kids to fight at Little Caesars Arena for free
Claressa Shields knows just how important youth programs can be. On June 3 at Little Caesars Arena, she'll give today’s participants an opportunity she never had.
For her homecoming fight in Detroit against Hanna Gabriels, the Flint native and current undisputed middleweight champion will send 1,000 kids participating in youth programs across Detroit and Flint to the fights for free, in an initiative dubbed “Night of a Thousand Stars.”
Kids from 14 different organizations, including Kronk Gym, Flint Boys & Girls Club, PAL of Detroit, Downtown Boxing Gym and the Claressa Shields Community Outreach Corporation, have been selected for an opportunity Shields said is uncommon for kids growing up in low-income areas.
“The Night of a Thousand Stars is just to give the kids a chance to experience greatness,” Shields told The Detroit News on Thursday. “I think about when I came up and there’s stuff I didn’t get to do that I wish I could have done.
“I feel like the children who will be coming to see my fight from Flint, Detroit, Beecher, around those areas, we all come from a rough upbringing, live in poverty, and it’s something you’ll never be able to do.”
Shields, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who began training at Flint’s Berston Field House, said she didn’t get to attend her first professional fight until right before departing for the London Olympics in 2012.
“Representation is everything,” Shields told The News. When you have somebody that looks like you and also comes from the same area, the same town, it just makes it more believable that, whatever your dreams are … you know that it’s possible when you see someone who represents you and where you’re from.”
At some point during the telecast, arena lights will lower and the selected attendees will be asked to mark their presence with their cell phone light, creating a literal thousand stars in the figurative Little Caesars Arena sky.
All of the available tickets have already been offered, according to Shields’ business manager, Mark Taffet. Bus transportation is being planned to transport the attendees from Flint.
Some of the programs from which kids were selected have offered to donate a portion of the tickets, including Kronk Gym and the Emanuel Steward Champions of Tomorrow Program. Jeff Styers, a major figure in both programs, donated 300 tickets, according to Taffet. The Claressa Shields Community Outreach Corporation is donating 200.
Night of a Thousand Stars will bring the fight night, a seminal moment for the city’s boxing legacy, full-circle. Also planned for the event is a moment to celebrate the Kronk stars of yesteryear. Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns, Hilmer Kenty, Milton McCrory, and others will be honored for their contributions to Detroit’s rich boxing history.
“Detroit, once upon a time, was the best. The best fighters come from Michigan, and I say that loudly and proudly …so, I’m just happy that I can add my legacy, and being a woman to be the one to bring it back,” Shields said.
“Who would have thought that a little poor Black girl from Flint, who fought her way to the Olympics, to win gold, and then did it again? And then I just kept fighting and fighting and training and grinding, and just changing the sport of women’s boxing.
“To know, they’re giving me the opportunity — that they chose me to be able to bring boxing back to Detroit … that’s huge.”
Though Shields is perhaps best known for her fearless mentality, she’s avoided thinking about what she’ll feel when Night of a Thousand Stars commences and all those cell phones light up the arena.
“I can’t think of stuff like that,” Shields said. “I’ll start crying.”