By Clemente Casillas
A bruising boxing bout can go 12 three-minute rounds. That is nothing compared to the eight years we spent
taking on National City, California, in the fight of our lives to save our nonprofit boxing gym and tutoring center for
at-risk children. If it were not for the Institute for Justice,
we would never have stood a chance. We would never have been the last one standing in the ring, which is exactly where we remain today—our arms lifted in victory.
Thanks to the Institute for Justice, we defeated the city’s attempt to take our property for a high-rise condo development. Because of that, we can continue to serve the thousands of kids who have walked through our doors.
These are kids who are not just from broken homes; they are often themselves broken–physically, mentally and spiritually. All they want is to find a safe haven from neighborhoods that are infiltrated by gangs and, often, hopelessness. At the Community Youth Athletic Center, we take it upon ourselves to build these kids back up, showing them how strong, smart and successful they can be. Some of them have gone on not only to compete at the national championship level in boxing but also to do even bigger and better things with their lives.
This is what the city was trying to shut down for the benefit of a condo developer. This is what the Institute for Justice has saved.
For those of you who know IJ attorney Dana Berliner, the first word that comes to mind when you think of her may not be fighter, but that’s exactly what she is. She is a tenacious fighter.
From the very start, she was fully committed to our success, guiding us on what we needed to do to save our center. In the first days of this battle, she directed me and one of our board members, Victor Nuñez, to drive around in my jeep with Victor standing up in the back taking pictures of every single property up and down our main street so we could help her document all the mistakes the city had made with its blight designation. And when she appeared in court, she could talk without referring to her notes in amazing detail to the judge, persuading him on why we should win. That, for me, was one of the most amazing moments of this years-long fight. Without ever referring to her notes, she never flinched. Because of her incredible mind and heart, we scored a knockout.
And IJ attorney Jeff Rowes was just as smart, just as articulate and just as committed. As with everyone on the IJ team, he was in this fight for the right reasons. He was here to save our facility and to make sure that we could continue to serve the kids who so badly need our help. Like every good fighter, Jeff was absolutely relentless in his attack on National City, never letting up until we won.
Throughout the fight, IJ made sure we earned media coverage that focused on what we do for the kids we serve and what the city was trying to do. This gave us a lot of encouragement. It reminded us that the city was the one that was wrong and that what we were doing was right and worth fighting for.
While our case is now over and our center saved, IJ always will be part of the CYAC community. We could not be more grateful for IJ’s help.
Clemente Casillas is a former IJ client and president of the Community Youth Athletic Center.