14 Keetoowah kids graduate to yellow belts
BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
TAHLEQUAH – Fourteen Keetoowah children tested their martial arts skills and graduated to their yellow belts with Ramos TaeKwonDo on July 27 through the UKB Housing Department’s Keetoowah Strong of Sound Mind, Body and Spirit Program.
“They never miss a class and they are very dedicated. They have to be one of the best classes that we’ve had,” said Master Denisse Ramos, co-owner of Ramos TaeKwonDo.
Testing day started at 8 a.m. with warm ups and group exercises before moving on to being judged on their individual forms.
“For their form we let them go individually that way parents get a chance to see their kids shine. Then they do the sparring to show their technique, how well they can control their kicks and stuff like that,” said Ramos.
Students then move on to self-defense and sparring before finishing up their testing with board breaking.
“Sometimes they’re really scared to break their boards, but whenever they break that board, the smile and the joy and the accomplishment that they get is priceless,” said Paula Thompson, co-owner of Ramos TaeKwonDo. “We look for technique. We look for if they’re putting out their best effort this day. It’s also for us to see if we’re doing our job because they should be 100 percent prepared whenever they come to test.”
Ramos TaeKwonDo has 12 belts in its curriculum.
“You have to earn the belt. We don’t want to lie to the kids. Everybody needs to earn their belt. It wasn’t given to me so I’m not going to give it to anybody else,” said Ramos.
The Keetoowah class is funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and managed by the Keetoowah Strong of Sound Mind, Body and Spirit Program.
The program strives to provide tribal youth with the self-confidence and focus they need to make it in today’s world.
Classes began in February 2019 and were open for enrollment to all children of federally recognized tribes, with a Keetoowah preference.
In addition to paying for the class, the Keetoowah Strong program also paid for the children’s gi’s and sparring equipment, which are both embellished with the UKB logo and the “Keetoowah Strong” slogan.
UKB Housing Inspector and Project Coordinator Richard Vann first approached Ramos about the project as a way to combat bullying in schools.
“The main thing I had been reading was on bullying, cyberbullying, school bullying. We just wanted to make sure our kids knew how to take up for themselves, have more confidence in themselves, be more outgoing,” said Vann. “We wanted to get them out of their shell. A lot of our Keetoowah kids won’t look at you or speak to you, but you get them in a program like this it builds their confidence up and that’s what I was wanting.”
Thompson said their program is a space for children to come to feel “safe.”
“That’s what we’re trying to create, is a community for our kids that whenever they come in here, they feel safe,” said Thompson. “They feel appreciated and they feel valued and they feel accomplished and feel good about themselves. When they leave here and go out those doors, that’s one of the best things that we can give to them.”
Parent Anna Walker said she has noticed a difference in her daughter and nephew since they began taking classes, which makes her 30-mile roundtrip into town twice a week to get the children to classes “worth it.”
“They love it. It’s totally worth it, especially to see how they’re progressing. It’s a commitment, but like I said, it’s worth it,” said Walker. “I love watching them, how they’re learning different things and how they’re growing... This has also been teaching them respect and courtesy, honesty. it’s really good for the kids that they learn all this. The school just teaches them how to be a really good person.”
During the board testing, Walker’s daughter Kyah briefly struggled to break her board, which prompted the entire room to encourage and cheer her on.
“She had a hard time with it and so to see her get it, it made me proud. Then to hear her friends in the class cheering her on until she got it, it made me happy,” said Walker. “Then after to come out and put the belt on her, I was really proud. It’s a lot of work, a lot of commitment, but we enjoy it.”
Kyah also happens to be Vann’s granddaughter.
“That was a good moment for us,” said Vann. “It showed that she didn’t give up. It showed that her peers didn’t give up on her. It showed that Master Ramos didn’t give up on her. When she broke the board, everybody cheered and applauded. That right there is team building. It lifts up the person’s spirits that you’re encouraging them. She was having trouble, but they kept encouraging her and she did it. That right there is a real big boost of confidence for her.”
Vann said he hopes to expand the program in the next year to include other activities such as basketball and baseball, as well as band and music.
“I want to get Keetoowah kids in their talent,” he said. “I want the Keetoowah kids to find what they feel special in, what their talent is… This is a life training for whatever they want to do. It makes me proud to come in and see 14 kids with Keetoowah Strong and they’re still hanging on to it. I don’t know if there’s a lot of Natives in taekwondo, but now the Keetoowahs have 14 of them.”
Vann also took the time to thank Thompson and Ramos for working with his program to make it possible.
“Master Thompson and Master Ramos are doing an excellent job for our kids,” he said. “I appreciate them very, very much. They moved their schedule around to fit us in their schedule. As soon as I talked to them, they were on board. It was meant to be with Ramos.”