Empower. One word that makes up the entire mission of the Bully Rehab Awareness Gym (BRAG).
BRAG serves the city of Yuma, AZ with the mission to empower kids who have been bullied or are bullies themselves.
BRAG is, “committed to providing a safe environment for children to shine. Helping to empower a child, one kid at a time.”
BRAG aims to provide a safe environment for kids, specifically kids coming from low-income families and who have been victims or offenders of bullying.
Founder Carlos Flores is a retired MMA fighter who started up BRAG in his gym in response to the “bully epidemic” within Yuma and throughout the country.
Carlos was recently interviewed by Mike Rowe for the Facebook Watch show, Returning the Favor”.
Carlos himself was bullied as a child to the extent of suffering a hairline fracture to his jaw after being punched on the schoolbus. He found himself reluctant to tell his father about the bullying only to have his father say when he discovered what was going on, “why would you never tell me this, son”, which was an eye-opener for Carlos.
While in Junior High School, Carlos started wrestling in response to the bullying and became a bully himself.
Carlos’s father stepped in telling him, “you were not raised to be a bully.”
Considering his father was his greatest mentor, Carlos stopped bullying.
Because of his past experiences, Carlos has a strong belief in helping both the bullied and the bully.
He even believes that the bully needs more help because, “a person who’s been bullied, you can make them strong. A person who’s a bully, have a lot of work to do”.
He states that someone who’s being bullied can be taught how to box to give them strength.
Someone who’s been beating people up, shouldn’t learn how to box but he teaches them Judo, which is considered “The Gentle Way”. He believes that this is how a person can learn respect and honor, which in turn will allow them to respect who they are.
BRAG started the initiative Battered and Bullied No More, which teaches “The Art of the Gentle Way” through Wrestling, Judo, Spartan Obstacle Course Training, Boxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
The program is designed to make a bully into a valuable, positive and important member within the community.
The Battered and Bullied No More initiative helps the bully to learn respect, dignity and discipline. They are put through a 10-week training camp similar to what MMA fighters might undergo.
Once they have passed the program, “they now will help the bullied”.
Chief Operating Officer, Kenrick Escalanti says, “we are not just a gym first and foremost, we are an Anti-Bullying Organization that works on a Mission, a Mission to help empower and to make better people. Our team isn’t driven by dollars and cents, we are driven by seeing children who couldn’t before smile and laugh.”
Carlos started the gym because he remembered what it was like to be a bully and to be bullied and decided he wanted to make a difference in a child’s life. He started out training kids in his garage, showed them techniques and moves and noticed that their confidence and self-esteem were growing.
3 years ago, the building that housed the gym, through a variety of situations was lost to BRAG, which left them without a place to train. Carlos made a plea through Facebook asking for help finding a new gym for the kids. The community helped immensely but Frank Carillo, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity, stepped forward to help and Carlos believes that if it weren’t for his help, they wouldn’t have the gym they are using for BRAG today.
Frank said of Carlos, “he had no place to go; the kids were distraught because they left their home. And I told him; I’ll take care of it for you. I think what he’s doing is a very positive thing for this community, its helps the community grow. It also shows people in the community that if you pull together, there nothing you can’t do.”
Unfortunately, Frank died in November 2017.
Much of the equipment that is used in the gym has been purchased out of Carlos’s own pocket and over the years, the gym has trained thousands of kids on a small budget. When asked about where he would be without donations, Carlos stated it would be “tough”.
A reformed bully stated that gym had changed his life, “I became a good person and I really love who I am”.
A child who had been formerly bullied said, “it’s not just a gym, it’s a family”.
A mother of two Autistic children who attend BRAG said, “they have both come so far. Neither Sophia nor Elijah would speak to anybody, look at anybody. Now they walk around with pride. They talk to everyone and they’ve come so far.”
“I went to the school in Brawley; I got bullied when I was in kindergarten. After first grade I started doing ‘Judo’ and it helped me and then nobody bullied me anymore,” said Damien, one of the young jujitsu fighters at BRAG.
Carlos says there’s no better feeling. He concluded, “it’s a blessing, it’s a blessing to have the amazing people that I’ve helped in over the ten year process. Can’t put a price on it.”
To feel bullied is to feel helpless.
Carlos’s gym provides a sanctuary.