Military child and Native American advocate Gracy Kennedy is boxing her way to stardom from Minot Air Force Base, N.D., to the Junior Olympics Team.
Gracy, now 13, was in fourth grade when she told everyone who would listen that she was going to become a professional boxer. But as she trains to make the Junior Olympics Team, Gracy is also boxing her way toward achieving a much bigger goal. A goal that is close to her heart: raising awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA.
From milkid to boxer
Gracy was born into a dual-military family. Her father, Steven Kennedy, is of Irish origins and a master sergeant in the Air National Guard. Her mother, Jeanita Kennedy, is a member of the Navajo Nation and joined the Air Force when she turned 18. She had to go on her first deployment when Gracy was only 3 months old.
As a result of her mother’s many deployments, Gracy spent half of her life without her mother by her side. In fact, that’s a leading reason why the Kennedys decided Jeanita Kennedy needed to separate from the military.
After settling down at Minot AFB, Gracy’s parents signed her up for karate classes because they wanted her to learn how to defend herself.
“I liked it,” Gracy stated, “but then my karate teacher moved so my parents started looking for a new self-defense class. They found boxing and signed me up for it. I like it because it gives me something to challenge myself with and when all the hard work I do pays off and I win, I find it rewarding and satisfying.”
Soon, her passion for boxing became too powerful for her parents to ignore.
The challenges of boxing
“We signed her up for training when she was 8 years old,” Jeanita Kennedy said. “To be honest, I thought that she was going to quit after her first bloody nose.”
To everybody’s surprise, Gracy was more determined than ever to get back on the ring. In fact, the gym soon became her home away from home.
“Gracy wasn’t doing well in school because of her attention span,” Jeanita Kennedy said. “She was also bullied and only had one friend.”
After a year spent working with someone who told Gracy she “should just stick to Ju Jitsu,” the Kennedys welcomed a new coach — also a Native American who offered to train Gracy for free — who saw the fire in Gracy, believed in her and decided to take her under his wing. But after a year and a half of training, Gracy kept losing match after match.
Yet, Gracy didn’t quit. She still woke up early in the morning to do all the strenuous exercises her coach taught her including running three miles and multiple push-ups. She kept following a strict diet of fish and fruit, which turned out to be challenging for a 12-year-old who, at times, craved candy like all the other kids.
Gracy remained focused, though. She knew that, in order to reach her goals, she couldn’t quit on herself. Plus, she had three people in her life who believed in her and never quit on her either: her mother, father and coach.
Fighting for awareness
“Eventually, Gracy realized that if you really believe in yourself and work hard, you can achieve everything you set your mind to,” Jeanita said with pride in her eyes.
Gracy began winning match after match, and as her confidence in the ring grew, so did her confidence and performance in school. In March 2019, Gracy won the Western Elite Qualifier and Regional Open Championship in Reno, Nev.
It was after that major win that Gracy told her mother, “I want to help and inspire my people.” Jeanita said she turned to her daughter, smiled and reminded her that she already did.
But solely being a source of inspiration for girls everywhere wasn’t enough for Gracy. She wanted to raise awareness about an issue that is very close to her because of her Navajo heritage: raising awareness of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA.
“I want Navajo and all Native Americans to grow up in a safe environment and become stronger,” Gracy said. “Murdering, raping or kidnapping people no matter what age, gender or race is horrible and should not happen. And I’m glad that I’m helping a group by raising awareness for their cause.”
Even though data is limited and not always accurate, the National Crime Information Center states that in 2016, 125 Native American women were reported missing in North Dakota alone. The lack of information, news coverage and laws issued to help protect indigenous women are the reason why Gracy decided to take it upon herself to bring awareness to the issue.
“I have a tiny red dress pin to my boxing bag,” Gracy said. “It reminds me to fight and encourage others.”
As Gracy continues to train hard to achieve yet another sizable goal — to be on the Junior Olympics Team — she knows she can count on the entire military community to keep cheering her on.
“I’m still extremely nervous, but yet strangely excited!”
Go to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA to learn more about what Gracy’s fighting for.Read comments