Battle Creek

BC's Still Hope Boxing teaches mothers and daughters to cross, jab, bob and weave together

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.

BATTLE CREEK, MI — Boxing and martial arts weren’t sporting endeavors for Courtney Hoover. They were a means to protect his mother from physical attacks from men she was involved with.

“When I was growing up, I used boxing and martial arts as a defense tool to help with self-discipline and defend my mom against her attacker,” says Hoover, owner of Still Hope Boxing in Battle Creek where he is head coach, instructor, and mentor.

John GrapCourtney Hoover and his mom, Annie Lawrence, who is the inspiration of “Mother & Daughter” Boxing Expo, pose for a photo.He never wants another woman or young girl to be in that same vulnerable place as his mother and has made a point of opening Still Hope to females as well as males. On Wednesday, he held a “Mother & Daughter Boxing Expo” in honor of Mother’s Day on Sunday. More than 10  moms and daughters participated in the event which was held at Holmes Fitness on Columbia Avenue.

John GrapAriana Davids and her daughters, from left, Amiyah Williams and Ameela Davids attended the “Mother & Daughter” Boxing Expo.Ariana Davids, a Battle Creek resident, brought her daughters, Ameela, age 2, and Amiyah, 6, because she says it’s good for her girls to learn self-defense.

“For my girls, I want them to learn self-defense in a fun way,” Davids says. “I do think it’s important for women and young girls to learn how to physically defend themselves. I was in ballet when I was younger and I never learned self-defense. I think it’s really cool and something active and physical for the kids to do.”

She says it’s great that Hoover is doing this for the community, especially bringing mothers and daughters together before Mother’s Day.

John Grap Stephanie Boyd and her daughter Jayla attended the “Mother & Daughter” Boxing.Stephanie Boyd says her interest was piqued when she learned that it was a mother/daughter opportunity to do something different together. Boyd, Social Services Librarian at Willard Library, says she also wanted to support Hoover because she knows this is something he’s passionate about.

“I didn’t learn anything like this and I wish I had,” she says of the boxing and self-defense. "I got into quite a few situations which wouldn’t have been as scary if I’d known how to defend myself. In elementary school I was bullied a lot and the best thing I knew was to run and the one time I did try to defend myself, I lost.”

John GrapStephanie Boyd boxes during the “Mother & Daughter” Boxing Expo.Boyd’s daughter, Jayla, owner of a daycare facility, says her mother let her know that he had a spare ticket for the event.
"She wanted to know if I could adjust my schedule to go. She values mother/daughter time and now that I’m older it means a lot more to me. I do like to work out and this means a lot to me. We need this and the city needs this,” she says.
John GrapAnnie Lawerence poses with boxing gloves during the “Mother & Daughter” Boxing Expo.Hoover, who is a car detailer and driver for  Seelye KIA of Battle Creek, says, “I just feel like women and young ladies, you kind of get overlooked or there’s a certain stigma about boxing and limitations are put on y’all.”

He does away with these stigmas and limitations by empowering women and girls, aged 6 and above, and teaching them about the importance of self-awareness, self-discipline, and self-defense.

A troubled past, a hopeful future

The early years for Hoover were absent of positive role models. Both of his parents were incarcerated at different times and he was sent to live with various family members. He describes that time as living in a “dog-eat-dog world” with very few options to rise above it all.

“I used to hustle, sell drugs, and carry drugs and there have actually been situations in my past when I was violent. I started fighting early on and actually seen two murders before I was 15 years old. I hated myself and my environment. I sabotaged my own life.”

John GrapRiyana Palmer, center, watches the boxing action at the “Mother & Daughter” Boxing Expo.By this time he shared not only his parents' DNA, but also their history of incarceration. He was incarcerated on and off for a total of 14 years. The choice between continuing to live the way he’d been living or creating a different path forward was made painfully clear to him when prison officials wouldn’t release him to attend his grandmother’s funeral in 2018. She was among the few positive influences on his young life.

“The pain of not being able to bury her or give her a last kiss on the forehead was too much for me,” Hoover says.

John Grapndia Frierson boxes during the “Mother & Daughter” Boxing Expo.In addition, he says during his incarceration he would speak with his children, lie to them, and return to his bunk where he would break down.

He says he was angry and desperate.

The father of seven children who has never married because he says, “Marriage scares me”, Hoover says he saw his flaws growing up and his shortcomings and wants to make sure he helps his own children navigate the challenges they may be facing.

“I didn’t want to take it out on my kids because of what happened to me.”
“I surrendered to God in there and said, ‘Use me as an instrument for good and I knew boxing would figure in there somewhere.”

John GrapSeen at the “Mother & Daughter” Boxing Expo are, from left, Annie Lawrence, Stephanie Boyd, and Jayla Lawrence.After his release, Hoover attended Kellogg Community College where he earned an Associate’s Degree in Business. He worked in a series of jobs that included community outreach.

During this time he asked a friend he had made while attending KCC what he could offer in terms of service saying he wanted to have a purpose but wasn’t sure what that looked like.

His friend said, “Take the gifts that God blessed you with and put your energy into that and let God guide you,” Hoover says. That gift was boxing The result was Still Hope Boxing which is sanctioned and licensed through USA Boxing and opened in May 2021 at Kingdom Builders Worldwide on Spencer Street.

There, he puts himself out as a role model, providing a positive space where he’s letting children and adults know that it’s OK to be vulnerable and talk about what’s going on in their lives.

John GrapAriana Davids poses with boxing gloves during the “Mother & Daughter” Boxing Expo.“Half of the time at the gym we do more talking than fighting. These are wide open conversations where I tell them, don’t get a record and get in trouble and work on a small bank account so you don’t have to wait until you’re 40 or 50 like me,” Hoover says. “If I don’t teach you these skills with boxing you can become dangerous.” 

His mother, now 79, helps out with his children so that he’s able to juggle his full-time job with both Seelye KIA and his work with Still Hope Boxing.

“My mom tried her best despite her earlier circumstances. I still love her and give her everything I can,” Hoover says. “I was a real ugly book and now I look like I should be somewhere at Barnes & Noble. I don’t regret anything I’ve done. I don’t regret my story because it made me who I am today.”

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Read more articles by Jane Parikh.

Jane Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.