About a year after he got out of Jessup [Correctional Institution], Manigan walked into a gym set up at the former Gibbs School off Benning Road. There, he spotted Ragahleak “Peanut” Bartee, 9 years old, in the corner wrapping his hands. “I just looked at him, and I said, ‘There’s something special about this kid.’ ”
Manigan was right. Peanut, now 14, won the 75-pound intermediate division Junior Olympic national championship in 2015. In 2016, his training partner and best friend Quincey Williams, 12, won the 90-pound championship at junior nationals. [Peanut, Quincey, and Manigan’s son are now] the founding members of the Lyfe Style boxing team…
“These are good kids, man. There’s just some things they missing in their lives that they can’t control,” Manigan said. “So that’s where I come in, being a role model, teaching them about life, about being respectful. It ain’t all about boxing. I want to raise them from boys to men.”
And Manigan is in the perfect position to reach the boys. Five years ago, both Peanut and Quincey were missing father figures, something Manigan could relate to.
“It was tough for me coming up. I ain’t have nobody to teach me, nobody to take the time,” Manigan said. He says his parents were drug addicts and his grandmother, who raised him, died at an early age. Manigan was trying to balance boxing and the street life when he got arrested.
Hunter [Manigan’s mentor] said that might have been a blessing in disguise.
“[Walt] had that fall in life,” he said. “Then when he came back, he understood what he had lost and what this thing was really about, and he just turned it around.”
Manigan and Lyfe Style have set up shop at the Ferebee-Hope Recreation Center in Southeast. Other coaches in the gym have been to prison, too, but like Manigan, they take responsibility for their mistakes and volunteer so that other young men don’t make them. It’s an ongoing endeavor.
The coaches are motivated to provide in any way they can, by buying boxing gear, taking the kids out for meals or haircuts or paying for travel. To fund this, the team sells bottled water on New York Avenue, attempts to raise money by GoFundMe, or the coaches pay out of their own pockets.
To Manigan, whatever it costs is worth it.
“I don’t look for nothing out of this,” Manigan says. But when his boxers win, “That’s the greatest feeling in the world for me. That’s like a high for me. . . . When Peanut first won the nationals, I cried. I cried for the simple fact that I’d seen how hard these kids work and what they give up.”
Considering his past … Walt acknowledges, “If I do anything to mess up, I kill their dreams. That keeps me on a straight path.”
And the boys have big dreams.
In the ring, both Peanut and Quincey envision pro careers. Yet in school, both are honor-roll students, keeping, as Peanut says, “a second game plan.”
Manigan says that in the ring, “The sky is the limit, man.”
At the core, Manigan and the other coaches at Ferebee-Hope are trying to make up for their missteps by giving back. Hunter, Manigan’s mentor, appreciates that.
“I think Walt has redeemed himself,” he said. “I think he has atoned for his past. . . . I think that Walt, along with any other mentor that is genuine, that is not looking at the youth for financial gain but care about them and guide them in the right direction, I think they’re worth their weight in gold.”
In the heart of one of Washington’s toughest neighborhoods, the Lyfe Style team offers a future for its kids and a chance at redemption for its coaches.
“All of us pretty much lived that lifestyle,” Manigan said. “It’s time for change, man. A lot of things that I experienced in life prepared me for this moment. Now I know where I’m at, and I know where I’m trying to go and I know I ain’t trying to go backwards. [The kids] keep me alive. They keep me striving ’cause I know they’re depending on me. This feels so good, what I’m doing. Oh man, it feels good.”
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