Eugene 'Thunder" Hughes is a former accomplished AAU and Golden Gloves boxer. Born and raised in Washington, DC, he spent some time in California as a young man where he became a Black Panther. He also did a stint in prison there. Back in DC in the 1970's he started the Midtown Youth Academy where young boys and girls could get off the streets and train as boxers and also receive academic tutoring and learn computer skills from student volunteers from area universities such as Howard, George Washington, Georgetown and University of DC.
Most of his charges have been youth living in poverty, without stable homes and whose parents in too many instances were drug addicts, alcoholics or in prison. Now 78 years old and in ailing physical health, he still manages to keep the doors of the Midtown Youth Academy open everyday for those who want training, free of charge.
Over the last few years I have occasionally stopped by to say hello to Mr. Hughes and sit and listen to him tell stories of his very full life and the changing landscape of DC. His biggest fight now is fending off developers who have been trying for years to get him to pack up and go. He is adamant about continuning to fight for this humble building and not becoming yet another casuality of the unprecedented pace of gentrification along the 14th Street Corridor of the city. Even since I began my periodic visits, MYA is now sandwiched between a sleek, trendy lounge that focuses on "making hand-crafted, quality cocktails prepared by professional mixologists and providing excellent music and entertainment in upscale venues that you can call home" and a high-end pizza place which claims to have reinvented "the most quintessential Italian establishment" and is actively offering franchising opportunites. Eugene will have none of that for his beloved place on the 2200 block of 14th Street.
How long he can last against the heavyweight multi-million developers is a story to be continued. In the meantime, have no doubt that with the true heart of a champion, Eugene "Thunder" Hughes plans to fight until the last bell.