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When I’m 64: Aging in America: The Comeback of Jimmy Bivins

Thursday, January 27, 2000 at 2:57 PM

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In the 1940's and 50's, Cleveland's Jimmy Bivins was considered one of the best fighters of his time. Even though he didn't win any world titles, Bivins' is viewed as a champion among boxers, as Bivins trains for a new challenge -- rehabilitation -- after suffering physical and mental abuse at the hands of his daughter and son-in-law. 90.3's/INFOHIO's Yolanda Perdomo reports on the comeback of Hall of Fame boxer Jimmy Bivins. Bivins' story will act as a catalyst for an in-depth look at elderly abuse in our community as Perdomo will take this phenomenon a step further and talk to a John Carroll professor about this horrible occurrence and steps to alleviate it from the head of Cuyahoga County's Adult Protection Services.

(Bivins in gym, talking with other boxers)
YP- At the Thurgood Marshall Rec Center in Cleveland, Jimmy Bivins sits in a chair off to the side of a ring. He slowly rises with the help of his cane, and gives boxers tips of the trade.

JB- The kids today have to learn about how to jab. Move around so they don’t get hit. That’s what I think about boxing, the kids today, they get in and try to fight it out too much instead learning the skills of boxing. I think the kids like for me to be around. I’d be trying to tell them and show them a few things, you know. About boxing.

YP- Bivens is considered by many in the sport as a champion, a man who seldom lost a match. A fighter who went up against the likes of Ezzard Charles, Tony Musto, Joey Maxim...and won.

At the International Boxing Hall of Fame, in Canastota, New York, memories of boxing’s yesteryears greet you at the door. Among the sequined boots, satin robes, monogrammed trunks, and gold belts, you’ll find Jimmy’s contribution. It’s a torn, weathered medicine ball from 1949. Bivins was a boxer’s boxer, and he was inducted into the hall this summer. Edward Brophy is the hall’s executive director.

EB- Its good to be defensive because its protecting yourself, it sets you up for offensive moves. And Jimmy would then slide his jab in his right hand. He was very clever. He was a clever fighter, a very smart fighter. And that’s what he’s remembered for.

YP- In 1951 the 5 foot 9 inch Bivins, as a light heavyweight, went toe-to-toe with the 6 foot heavyweight champion Joe Louis in an exhibition match. Bivins gleefully remembers that fight, and how he stood up to the “Brown Bomber”.

JB- Then when I did get a fight with Joe Louis, he said he was going to knock me out. At that time, I called him “Big Red”, I said ‘Big Red, you know you got to hit me first’. So when the fight started, he said he was going to knock me out in four rounds. After the fourth round, I said ‘Big Red, I’m still here’. (laugh) He tried his darnest to knock me down, he didn’t even knock me off my feet.

YP- Jimmy Bivins never backed away from a fight. And the same is true for the domestic struggle he faced at the hands of his daughter Josette and her husband Darrelle Banks. Bivins lived with them after his wife Liz passed away in 1995. After he stopped coming around the gyms, and visiting his friends, they became concerned. They tried to get the police to intervene to no avail. But in April of 1998, on an unrelated call, authorities found Jimmy Bivins in his daughter’s attic, in what they consider squalid conditions. He was wrapped in a blanket in his own excrement. His body was covered with bed sores and blood clots and he had scars on his head. Gary Horvath was one of the people who searched for Bivins, and was horrified to discover the condition of his best friend and former trainer.

GH- I got to compare it to concentration like surroundings what he lived in from like a World War or something. Being a prisoner of war. I mean, dehydrated, malnourished, neglected. Left just to rot away. Finger had to be amputated. He was trying to open up a cold can of pork and beans that someone threw up there for him. And he found an old shearing knife and was trying to cut the pork and bean can lid off, and it slipped on his finger. Inside, I was all hurt and torn up because he just looked like a little rag doll under the blanket. You could hardly make him out under there. It was a very touching situation, heartbreaking.

YP- While Jimmy went to the hospital to recuperate, authorities investigated his injuries. This led to his son-in-law being charged with neglect. Darrell Banks is now serving 8 months in jail. The court has also barred his daughter, Josette from ever contacting her father again. Josette has not been heard from since. Even her attorney had not heard from her in months. Signs of the abuse still linger. During the interview Bivins made no eye contact. He at hunched over in responding to questions of abuse.

JB- I’m not upset. I don’t hold no animosity at all. You know how youngsters are. They do things they’re not supposed to do. And try to get away with it. She just didn’t get away with it. They tried to knock me down, but...I never did give up. .They thought I was gone, but I still survived. I guess I had it in my heart. I wasn’t a loser...I didn’t give up, I kept on fighting it. I soon made it

YP- Today, Jimmy spends most days in the gym watching young fighters who embrace him with the up most respect. Jimmy Bivins will be the guest of honor tonight at boxing tournament at the U.A.W Hall in Parma. For INFOHIO, I’m Yolanda Perdomo, in Cleveland.

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