For many Americans, their first time behind the wheel of a car was after receiving their drivers permit. That was not the case for Ivry Hall, who was taught how to drive by his older cousin at the age of 8. Driving was not the only thing he was exposed to at an early age. Hall, the youngest of 8 children, was only 9 years old when he got his first gun and started selling drugs. It wasn’t long before he embraced what was waiting for him on the streets of Chicago. This took place despite the efforts of his very involved mother, who Hall described as a strong, caring woman, who did everything she could to try to protect her children from the dangers that awaited them on the streets. Hall’s mother always remembered how close she came to losing him when he was hit by a truck and nearly killed at age 6. That accident left him in a concussion for 4 months, and doctors had told his mother that he would never walk again. Through the grace of God, he had a full recovery, but the road ahead for him wasn’t easy.
Hall, like so many children, grew up without his father in the home. His father was an alcoholic, and wasn’t allowed in the house due to his struggle with the addiction. When growing up, Hall learned how to play the part of an obedient child around his mother, and when she asked him where he got his drug money from, he would tell her he earned it from washing cars and pumping gas. At age 11, he had his first encounter with the juvenile justice system. His best friend at the time was carrying a gun and pointed it at the customers inside of the restaurant without his knowledge. The people inside called the police, and when they found Hall and his friend a few blocks away, they grabbed them and put them in the back seat of the police car. Hall lived by the no snitch policy, so when the police questioned him, he didn’t talk. The police eventually let Hall’s friend go, but they arrested him.
After several months they dropped the charges, but things seemed to still get worse for Hall. He dropped out of school in six grade, and took full time to the streets. While out hustling, he didn’t realize how sick his mother was. One evening, Hall had a feeling that he needed to stay in the house with his mother. He fell asleep on the couch next to his mother, while holding her hand. His eyes opened at 5:27am to discover his mother wasn't breathing. He woke up his other siblings and they called for help. She was rushed to the hospital, but due to his mother previously receiving the wrong medicine from the hospital, and having a major brain injury, she did not survive. His mother was snatched away from him in an instance, leaving Hall at age 12 feeling paralyzed. The pain from his mother’s death became a life altering moment that changed the course of his life. After his mother passed, he realized he needed to make a change for the good. He wanted to make his mother proud, and he knew if his mother was still living, she would want him to leave the street life alone.
Even with this change of heart, Hall had to do something to release his pain and emotions, so he decided to turn to boxing. He had came across a gym just two months before called Crusher’s Club. They had a boxing program that was a positive alternative for youth like Hall to get off the streets. Sally Hazelgrove, the founder of Crusher’s Club, remembered working with Hall when he first came in. “When Ivry first came to the club, he was pretty wild. He was expelled from school, was constantly in trouble, and was on juvenile probation, but as time went on he slowly began to turn his life around,” said Hazelgrove. Hall, who fought all of the time as a child, discovered quickly that he was a natural at boxing when he won his first boxing match with no training.
Boxing, amongst other sports, became an outlet for him and motivated him to stop drinking and smoking. He got himself back in school, and was allowed to skip 7th grade, and go straight to 8th grade. While carrying around his boxing gloves on his book bag, the younger boys began to look up to him. They wanted to learn how to box too. So Hall told Hazelgrove about the group of boys that wanted to sign up for the program. She drove the van each day to the school to pick the group of boys up and take them to the gym. Then on Sundays she would bring a pew full of boys to St. Sabina Church with her. That’s when Hall, who was 12 at the time, was first introduced to church and began to develop a relationship with God. He continued to go to the boxing gym faithfully, and although he had no formal training, he would teach the younger boys how to box. He loved working with the younger boys, and desired to be a mentor for them. “Me seeing them, pushed me to want to do better,” said Hall. “I can’t keep doing wrong if I want them to be better. So, I have to become the big brother that they want me to be to them.”
After graduating 8th grade, Hall went to Tilden High School. He chose to go to a school that was far away from his friends, because he wanted to separate himself from street life. He remained focused in school, maintaining excellent grades, treating those around him with respect, and excelling in every sport he was involved in. He played basketball, football, ran track and continued to box. School remained a priority for him all four years of high school, but getting to school became a major challenge. After his mother died, he moved in with his cousins, who eventually moved out to a suburb called Harvey. The place he stayed in was in substandard condition to say the least. He slept in the basement, where there was no electricity, and he had to “shower up” in the sink every day before going to school because the kids living upstairs would leave the bathtub filled with dirty water. He would wake up at 5:30am, and catch three buses and a train, which usually took him an 1:40 minutes to 2 hours to get to school each day. Although he was usually late to school every day, he still managed to complete all of his school work. While in high school, his relationship started to get better with his father. His father began to reach out to spend quality time with him, but his father was still struggling with his alcohol addiction. Sadly, when Hall’s relationship with his father was just beginning to turn around, his father drank himself to death. By the age of 17, Hall loss both of his parents. He considers the time of his father's passing one of the loneliness moments of his life. Hall’s faith in God, along with his determination to reach his dreams, are the two things that kept him going. “No matter what you go through. No matter what scraps you are given, you have to work with whatever you got. You have to push through and fight through. Everybody will face challenges,” said Hall.
While grieving the loss of his father, Hall continued to work towards his ultimate goal of graduating high school. Hall would be the first one in his family to accomplish this, and he was too close to give up now. The Dean of Students, Emanual Smith, continued to work with Hall to help him stay focus and overcome the challenges he faced in school. Months later, Hall successfully graduated as the valedictorian of his senior class, which he described as the happiest moment of his life.
After graduation, he thought he was done with school and would venture out into the workforce; but the people around him encouraged him to further his education. Dean Smith and a mentor/father figure in his life named Cinque Cullar persuaded him to apply for college. Cullar, along with his pastor Father Michael Pfleger, helped Hall to find scholarships for school. As a result of the support system that had developed around him, Hall was admitted to Alabama State University and started school this past fall. He finished his first semester with two B’s and two A's, and could not wait to return to school after winter break. He is currently majoring in business administration, and has hopes to one day open up a nonprofit organization that teaches youth how to box, play basketball, and create music (which is another passion of his). When Hall is home from school break, he is the head trainer and mentor at Crushers Club. Hazelgrove is grooming him to take over the gym, which would allow Hall to live out his passion. “When you do good, good comes to you. I want to teach kids to be better than what I was.” said Hall. “I want to give them the big brother love that they don’t get from home.” His hopes for the future are big, as he knows that God has kept him for a purpose. “I know God put me through these things for a reason,” said Hall.
Despite all of the struggles that he has encountered in his 18 years on this earth, the wisdom that he has gained in his life is that of someone who is 2-3 times his age. He compares life to the process of baking a cake. When baking a cake, the individual ingredients such as sugar, baking soda, and flour tasty nasty by themselves, but when you stir and bake all of those ingredients together, it turns out to be a delicious cake. For him, he realizes that the individual difficult and nasty moments of his life, such as getting ran over by a truck, losing both his parents, being lied on by people he loved were key ingredients in helping to shape his character, strengthen his faith, and soften his heart to have love and compassion for those who are in need. Now when looking ahead, he knows that he will come out on the other side of his struggles a better man and a testimony to God’s faithfulness. He is thankful for the journey he has had so far, and believes that the best of his life is yet to come. In a song dedicated to his mother entitled “Momma I Changed”, Hall reflects on the turnaround he made since her death. He said:
“Momma I changed. I ain’t the same dude stuck in a gang
I ain’t the same dude totting them thangs
I ain’t the same boy staying out late
I ain’t the same boy hopping them gates
I promise I ain’t gone be no fool
I promise I’m gonna stop breaking the rules
I promise I’m gonna stay focus in school
I promise I’m gonna put down that tool”
When performing this song, Hall finds peace in knowing that although his mother and father are no longer here on earth, they are smiling down from heaven on him. He knows that he has made them proud, and will see them again. When Hall was asked about how he feels about his future, he said “The sky’s the limit.” Considering all of the obstacles that Hall has already overcome, there is no doubt that this young man has a bright future.
A short documentary on Ivry Hall can be found on the Crusher's Club website HERE. Share your comments about Ivry Hall's story below.