Olympic Boxer Claressa Shields on the Fight to End Childhood Hunger

Inspired by her own experience with poverty and the knowledge she’s learned since going pro, the Flint native is giving back to local kids
Claressa Shields
Claressa Shields teaches kids how to jump rope at the Real Love Convoy at Ford Filed. // Photograph courtesy of Undeniably Dairy

Ford Field was buzzing with youthful energy on July 9. On the sunny weekday, more than 200 local kids convened at the stadium to enjoy a catered lunch, nutrition education, and drills on the field with professional athletes that included members of the Detroit Lions, soccer player Lindsay Tarpley, and boxer Claressa Shields. The cause for celebration? The Real Love Convoy, a three-vehicle fleet that provides kids with free milk and dairy products across the country, was in town. A collaborative effort between Feeding America and various organizations within the dairy industry, the mission of the convoy is to support youth nutrition and bring awareness to a startling statistic: One in six kids face childhood hunger in the U.S.

Following the activities on the field, Hour Detroit sat down with Shields, who is sponsored by the agricultural cooperative Undeniably Dairy, to discuss the Flint native’s own experience with childhood hunger, her motivation for supporting the Real Love Convoy, and the causes she cares about now. Read below for our conversation with the Olympian, and to support the fight against childhood hunger, visit giveagallon.com.

Hour Detroit: Why did you want to get involved with the Real Love Convoy?

Claressa Shields: The reason I think that I’m a good person to be doing this is because I went through it. I’ve experienced being one out of six kids who went through hunger. I enjoyed going to school throughout the school year. But we all know that once the school year’s over and we have a great, long summer break, we’re not able to get the nutrition that the school was giving us with lunch. I was in poverty until I was about 15-16 years old. I got out of that due to being a great boxer and getting the chance to fight in the Olympics. People need to know that you can come from a place like Flint, Detroit, Chicago and still make it. I love to tell my story so [kids] can know that even though we come from here and our parents may be this or they may be that, we can be something. That’s why I always try to come back and do things to inspire kids. With me experiencing [what I did], when I found out what Undeniably Dairy and the Real Convoy were doing, I wanted to be a part of it.

What role does nutrition play in your life now?

I didn’t learn about nutrition until I got older. I can get pretty big now, and I learned with the good nutrition, I can keep my weight down, I can eat healthier, I can feel better. It gives me the energy to be a healthy athlete. Yeah, I can be skinny without eating but I wouldn’t feel good without eating my vegetables, drinking my milk, my milk and fruit smoothies. All that stuff matters.

When you were younger, you found support through boxing and your faith. For kids who are maybe going through what you experienced, what do you think could be helpful for them?

For me, the positive outlet was just listening to somebody. It takes a village to raise a child. I always tell kids ‘listen to somebody.’ It doesn’t have to be me. It could be your aunt, uncle, teacher, coach. Listen to somebody when you’re going through those situations because they’re always going to be the one who can help you. For me, boxing was something that helped me. I had friends where basketball helped them, football helped them. You just meet so many great people and that’s how it helps you get out of your situation.

You’ve been vocal about your goal to be the Greatest Woman of All Time, and, following the United States Women’s National Soccer Team win, it seems like it would be inspiring for the kids to spend time with a strong female athlete like yourself. Why is female empowerment in sports a cause that is important to you?

When I think about the fight for women, there’s a lot of fights we have to fight — for equal pay, equal opportunity, equal TV time. And we can be 10 times better than the men but we still have to do all this extra fighting. There are disparities in our sports, not just boxing but soccer, even the WNBA doesn’t get paid like the NBA players. I know because I have WNBA friends (laughs). We all talk to each other, and it’s a fight that we continue to fight. We just wish that everybody would realize that as much time as the men put into their sport, we put just as much or even more. Women come back after pregnancies and still do their sport. As far as my boxing career goes, I put my life on the line just like the men. I have to lose 30 pounds for a fight, just like the men. I don’t know why the pay disparity is so different. People say ‘oh the viewership’ and all that, but I know for a fact that women’s soccer gets more views than men’s soccer but men’s soccer still gets paid more.

Boxing is on hold for a moment due to your knee injury, so what else can we expect from you in the months to come?

I should be fighting in October of this year. It’ll be in Flint at the Dort Federal [Credit Union Event Center.]  Right now, I have my own summer camp in Flint based on coping mechanisms. My summer camp doesn’t end in Flint until September when school starts. So, I’m just in Flint with my kids teaching them ways to deal with anger, sadness, depression. And, once again, giving them that role model and letting them know that I grew up on the same streets as y’all, and y’all can be great or even greater than me if you make the right decisions.

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