LORAIN — Wilkins Santiago knows how hard it is to grow up in the economically disadvantaged area of Lorain. He admitted he got into trouble a few times, and if it weren’t for boxing — his lifelong passion — he said he didn’t know where he’d be today.
Santiago credits his hard work with his recent success. He defeated Mustafa Johnson to remain undefeated in a fight April 6 as part of the Roy Jones Jr. promotion at the Mountaineer Casino in New Cumberland, W.Va.
His recent success has given him a fanbase, especially in the city he grew up in. Perhaps one of Santiago’s youngest fans had a chance to meet his idol Saturday and throw a few punches with the boxer.
Four-year-old Christopher Cole welcomed Santiago into his home Saturday afternoon. At first, Christopher was hesitant and shy, but after a few minutes with the boxer, he started throwing a few punches and “flexing” his muscles.
Christopher’s father, Christopher Cole, said he was happy that Santiago took the time to meet with the family. Cole and Christopher’s mother, Chrysta Lukes, contacted Santiago through Facebook, and they wanted him to share some encouraging words with Christopher, who would be starting preschool soon.
“It does mean a lot,” Cole told Santiago. “I’ve heard your story. You’ve come from nothing and now you’re at the top of your game … It’s good to see celebrities that still come out and care about their communities.”
Cole and Santiago talked about some of the challenges living in the city.
The gym where Santiago used to practice is no longer in operation. Santiago said he would like to build a new one so that the children of Lorain could have something to do.
Cole said the problem in the city is that so many kids are turning to a life of crime because there’s nothing else for them to do.
“I want to get (Christopher) into sports, keep him out of the streets and keep him active,” he said.
Santiago spoke to the child Saturday, and told him to listen to his parents and stay out of trouble. He told Christopher, who is a larger 4-year-old, that he would be good at sports.
Santiago, who started boxing at age 9, said it’s important for him to give back to the community, who has always supported him.
“I’ve been blessed,” he said. “A lot of things have been opening up for me. My fans have been really supportive of me.”