by Beth Thrasher
Last month, a 15 year old girl was shot dead hundreds of yards away from a Vector Jiu-Jitsu practice. The non-profit youth development program was holding class on one side of the Wingfield High School campus, and the freshman was gunned down as bystander to an escalated gang fight on the other. Wingfield High School (WHS) has a 50% graduation rate, is currently experiencing a critical teacher shortage, and some of the lowest test scores in the state of Mississippi, but Chris & Beth Thrasher think Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu can change a lot of that.
The couple (who met training in BJJ) launched the Vector Jiu-Jitsu Program at WHS, where Beth teaches math, in January of 2013. They were fed up with the continued failure of heavily funded after school programs to gain ground in the war against the achievement gap. The Thrashers felt the martial art that so positively changed their lives could do the same for the “at-risk” children of Jackson, MS.
Vector Jiu-Jitsu teaches three core values to participants: KNOW YOURSELF, BETTER YOUSELF & HELP OTHERS. Through training in BJJ, the kids learn to control their emotions and gain calm confidence under stress. The Thrashers offer this training free to participants but it is “paid for” by their improvement or maintenance of academics and behaviors as well as community service. In addition to neighborhood beautification and mentoring, Vector Jiu-Jitsu students maintain a zero-waste organic garden on school grounds, from which produce is donated. Management training also takes place in the form of Student Committee work. Students are responsible for day-to-day operations of the program, from “Event Planning” to “Facilities” or even “Public Relations.”
The VJJ program has experienced amazing results in its first year of existence. At least 2 boys have verified that they were going to drop out of high school had it not been for jiu-jitsu. A young lady who had been suspended for a fight mere days prior to joining went from a 6th grade level in math to a 12th grade level in only 6 months and now comes to school every day dressed in business attire, her “fighting days” a shadow in the past. This same young lady has also shown so much gift and talent on the mats that the Thrashers felt it prudent to enter her in the “Expert” Division at NAGA where she took home a belt! At least 2 participants lost 50 lbs, one parent testifies that VJJ pulled her child out of an 8 year depression. The list of successes could fill pages.
Despite these triumphs, Vector Jiu-Jitsu struggles to reach its full potential because it’s fueled by only the Thrasher couple’s passionate volunteerism and a handful of generous donations by individuals who’ve been moved by these kids’ metamorphosis through social media. The vision for Vector is far greater than 600 ft2 of mats in an old weight-room at Wingfield High School.
The long-term plan is to open an independent facility in the city, where kids of all ages can get bussed after school, train BJJ, receive academic enrichment and work in the garden or other community service projects. Vector Jiu-Jitsu sees a future where student apprentices become instructors for expansion locations all over the state and perhaps the nation as an entire job field is created based on the novel premise that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu might just save public education!
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Chris Thrasher (769) 798-5065 firstname.lastname@example.org
Beth Thrasher (601) 941-5153 email@example.com
Donate: www.vectorjiujitsu.com (Paypal Link)