CBC Quebec is highlighting people from the province’s Black communities who are giving back, inspiring others and helping to shape our future. These are the Black Changemakers.
Herby Whyne was on the lookout for a Montreal neighborhood to match his 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, Hard Knox Gym has become a Saint-Henri institution, drawing curious fitness novices and veteran boxers from all over the island to its modest facilities. And most of them are women.
“I support — strongly — women’s boxing,” he said. “Women can now come into a place where it was male-dominated.”
Beyond offering a space for kids and adults to build their muscles and their self-confidence, Whyne gives back to the neighborhood that embraced him by organizing food drives, acting as a referee for Knock out Cancer — a boxing gala for amateur fighters to raise funds for a cure — and engaging in everyday acts of kindness.
Between classes, he’s usually standing outside the gym, chatting with locals and offering meals to people in need.
“If you are doing something that you enjoy, then it becomes effortless to keep wanting to do it,” he said. “And then you see how that kind of sparks positivity in others to try to do the same.”
“The only way I could succeed is to share.”
Originally 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 pasted on the gym’s teal floor tiles.
“This gym represents my house, my home and my culture and my identity,” he said.
“The atmosphere is just to have a good time and have a good workout, and leave by gaining another family member,” he said.
“That’s what we’re about here, positive vibes.”
‘Kickboxing saved my life’
Whyne took up kickboxing at 18. It was an outlet to channel his excess energy, cultivate self-discipline and distance himself from street gangs.
“The people that I was hanging around with at that time… a majority of them are either dead or in jail or drug addicts,” he said. “Kickboxing saved my life.”
When he stepped away from competitive sports in his early 30s, Whyne was determined to return to school to become a phys-ed teacher. But getting into physical education required the high school diploma he lacked.
Instead, he is enrolled in a photography program at Dawson College, where he specialized in sports photography. His skills led to the opportunity to meet and photograph major professional boxers, including Mohammed Ali, Floyd Mayweather, Lennox Lewis and George Foreman.
“My parents never even went to school,” Whyne said. “I’m just really grateful that my path in life, where I came from, I’ve used [that] to better myself and to better my community.”
“I’m going to keep doing that until I’m not going to be able to do it anymore. That’s what makes me happy.”
The Black Changemakers is a special series recognizing individuals who, regardless of background or industry, are driven to create a positive impact in their community. From tackling problems to showing small gestures of kindness on a daily basis, these changemakers are making a difference and inspiring others. Meet all the changemakers here.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canadaa CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.