A microcosm of the transformative work that Dalton Outlaw and Element Boxing and Fitness does, comes in the form of a young man named Deonte.
Deonte, according to Outlaw, walked into Element about five years ago as an unmotivated teenager on the doorstep of making some pretty bad choices. He stuck with an intense training routine, working and sweating nearly everyday at the Element gym. He’s turned his life around, Outlaw says. “He committed to something positive and that correlated to life in the outside world.” Deonte now has a good job and is entrusted with teaching boxing skills to the young children in the gym.
Outlaw and his partner and childhood friend Ceresso Fort built the business of Element Boxing and Fitness and the nonprofit Element Boxing Academy not just to provide their hometown of St. Paul with a much-needed boxing gym, but also to capture kids like Deonte at an early age and give them a community where they can learn respect, self-esteem and discipline.
Except for the boxing ring in the middle, there is little or nothing of the Element gym that reminds you of a Rocky movie: huge east facing windows, clean and airy, children playing amid a forest of punching bags while their mothers lunge across mats carrying heavy weights; boxers of various ages pummel bags or spar in the ring. It feels safe, professional, inspiring and like a community. At 8,000 square feet, it’s big enough to sublet room to a Taekwondo business, and have plenty of leftover space for weights, punching bags, mats and even two giant tractor tires used for slamming sledgehammers onto.
When they started, Outlaw and Fort sold their cars for the cash to move forward, indicative of the intense commitment and passion for their mission. Outlaw makes connections wherever he goes, from the St. Paul Police Department and the Ramsey County Juvenile Detention facility to members of the Midway Chamber of Commerce.
He’s looking for kids to help, but he’s also looking for those who can help him. Even armed with a business degree, Outlaw knew he and Fort couldn’t thrive and grow on their own.
“I wanted to do a better job selling ourselves. I wanted to dig deeper to find out what kind of neighborhood organizations were out there that could help us grow,” Outlaw said. “I read about NDC, put it off, then came back to it. I found out pretty quickly NDC shares the passion of what I’m doing.”
In an interesting coincidence, Outlaw came to the NDC offices and ran into an old family friend — Director of NDC’s Business Lab Isabel Chanslor. After reminiscing for a while, they sat to talk about Outlaw’s business dreams and the services NDC could provide.
“I saw early on that they care. I can tell when people say they’re going to help you but they’re just blowing smoke. NDC never blew smoke. I have nothing but great things to say.” Small business consultant Mary Kuria set up his accounting system. Lead graphic designer Ryan Kidder worked with Outlaw to come up with a strong logo and branding that “wowed” him and with a highly effective website.
“Dalton is a positive, smart and ambitions young homegrown entrepreneur who we have enjoyed working with and learning more about,” Chanslor said. “I knew Dalton when he was in elementary school and all the energy he had then – and it was a lot – he has now placed into his business. He has succeeded in life due to his focus and belief in himself. Working with entrepreneurs like Dalton makes our day around here.”