This Montreal gym owner uses kickboxing to promote kindness

CBC Quebec shines a light on people in Black communities across the province who are giving back, inspiring others and helping shape our future. These are the Black Changemakers.

Herby Whyne was looking for a Montreal neighborhood that lived up to its character.

After condo developments put an end to the professional kickboxer’s plan to open a gym in Villeray, he set his sights on the Sud-Ouest borough.

Seventeen years later, the Hard Knox Gym has become an institution in Saint-Henri, attracting curious fitness novices and veteran boxers from across the island to its modest facilities. And most of them are women.

“I support – strongly – women’s boxing,” he said. “Women can now enter a place where it was dominated by men.”

Herby Whyne uses boxing as a way to support and empower his community. (Submitted by Herby Whyne)

In addition to providing space for children and adults to build muscle and confidence, Whyne gives back to the neighborhood that embraced it by hosting food drives, acting as a referee for Knock out Cancer – a boxing gala for amateur fighters to raise money for a cure – and engage in everyday acts of kindness.

Between classes, he usually hangs out outside the gymnasium, chatting with locals and offering meals to those in need.

“If you’re doing something you love, it becomes easy to keep wanting to do it,” he said. “And then you see how those kind of sparks spark positivity in others to try and do the same.”

“The only way to succeed is to share.”

Hailing from Clarendon, Jamaica, Whyne makes sure his Caribbean heritage resonates at Hard Knox – from his workout playlists for group classes to the print of the Jamaican flag stuck on the teal floor tiles of the sports Hall.

“This gym represents my home, my home, my culture and my identity,” he said.

“The vibe is just to have a good time and do a good workout, and go winning another family member,” he said.

“That’s what we want here, positive vibes.”

As a professional sports photographer, Herby Whyne has had the opportunity to meet some of the most famous boxers in the world, including Muhammad Ali. (Submitted by Herby Whyne)

“Kickboxing saved my life”

Whyne started kickboxing at 18. It was an outlet to channel his excess energy, cultivate self-discipline and distance himself from street gangs.

“The people I was hanging out with at the time…the majority of them are either dead, in jail, or drug addicts,” he said. “Kickboxing saved my life.”

When he walked away from competitive sports in his early thirties, Whyne was determined to return to school to become a physical education teacher. But getting into physical education required the high school diploma he lacked.

Instead, he enrolled in a photography program at Dawson College, where he majored in sports photography. His skills have allowed him to meet and photograph great professional boxers, including Mohammed Ali, Floyd Mayweather, Lennox Lewis and George Foreman.

“My parents never even went to school,” Whyne said. “I’m really grateful that my path in life, where I’m from, I’ve used [that] to better myself and to better my community.”

“I’m going to keep doing this until I can’t do this anymore. That’s what makes me happy.”

The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing people who, regardless of their background or industry, are committed to creating a positive impact in their community. From solving problems to doing small everyday acts of kindness, these changemakers make a difference and inspire others. Meet all the change makers here.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canadaa CBC project that black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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