FRIDAY, Nov. 3 — Last Saturday, Brian Daniels taught two more boxing classes at EmPOWer Lansing before closing the doors for good.
“That’s how life goes sometimes,” he said.
Of all people, Daniels would know. In 2005, the Lansing native was the lone survivor of a vehicle bombing in Iraq that led to 12 surgeries and having to learn how to walk again. After being awarded a Purple Heart and moving to New York City, he developed a passion for boxing.
“I learned from a couple of Golden Glove winners in New York, and then I got thrown into a class to teach one day and it just evolved from there," Daniels said. "Boxing is what really helped me to start to be able to deal with my PTSD and find a healthy outlet to process my trauma. I wanted to give that back to other people.”
The experience led Daniels, 37, to open EmPOWer, at 2010 E Michigan Ave in Lansing, in 2018.
“When I came up with the idea for EmPOWer, it was partially out of the fact that I didn't feel like I could actually be myself anywhere I worked — not fully,” he said. “I’ve always said that living an edited life is a waste of life and so, with EmPOWer, it was about being able to be authentic.”
EmPOWer had 216 members when it closed, and Daniels estimates that about 75 of them would come in five or six days a week.
“It was the people that made EmPOWer what it was, and the energy in that movement doesn't die just because it's not there anymore,” Daniels said. “We were a community of all shapes and sizes, we identified across the entire spectrum, we all got along beautifully, and it was wonderful. We didn't have people who were putting other people down. It was a place of acceptance, which I think is something that's really hard to find in the world.”
Unfortunately, as happened for many other gyms, the pandemic took its toll on EmPOWer. Daniels said he applied for the small business relief grants provided through state and federal government programs, but even that wasn’t enough to help his business stay afloat.
“I think the number of gyms in Michigan that closed since the pandemic is staggering,” Daniels said, noting that Title Boxing in East Lansing also closed in September.
“At some point, I started to get behind. I didn’t want to start a GoFundMe when most people were also struggling. I told myself that if I could come up with the money, great. If I couldn't, then I couldn't. Eventually, I got to the point where I had no cards left to play. It was over," he explained.
Daniels announced the gym’s closure Friday in a post on the EmPOWer Facebook page. “A lot of people found themselves again in these walls,” he wrote. “A lot of pain and stress was left on these bags. I've always said I want to be a light in a dark world. EmPOWer has been that.”
The responses Daniels has received have been humbling.
“This last week, I had no less than eight people tell me that they were thinking about killing themselves before they found EmPOWer,” he said. “And that's everything. If you've been there, you would understand. That, to me, is like, ‘mission accomplished.’”
This desire to better the lives of others is also what Daniels said led him to apply to fill a City Council vacancy in the 1st Ward after Brandon Betz resigned in 2022. He was appointed by the Council and served through the rest of the year. His reelection efforts, however, were stifled in the November special election, when Ryan Kost defeated him by just 55 votes.
What comes next?
“I honestly don't know right now,” Daniels said. “I have to figure out what I'm going to do with dissolving EmPOWer first, and I just can't imagine working where anywhere else right now. People keep asking me if I'm going to reopen, and I would love to someday, but I think that's way too far down the road at this point.”
Right now, he added, only one thing is certain: “Without question, whatever I do next, it'll be a service to people.”
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