20_PEven in the most unlikely of environments dreams can come true. Just ask Peter Westbrook.

Born in 1952 to a Japanese mother and an African-American father, Westbrook was raised in a single-parent home in the ghettos of Newark, NJ.

To keep Westbrook away from drug pushers and gangs, his mother bribed him to study fencing, paying him 5-dollars for every lesson he took. “My mother would travel her lineage back through many samurai. This was a source of great honor, great pride. For her, fencing was a sport of nobles. She thought, If I get Peter into fencing, he’ll meet noble people,” Westbrook says. Westbrook was a natural at the sport and soon began competing at national and international tournaments. At age 18, Westbrook got a fencing scholarship at New York University. Just 6 years later he attended his first Olympics in Montreal. That was just the beginning. He is the first Asian-American athlete to compete in six Olympic games. In 19-84, he captured the bronze medal, the first American to do so in a quarter century.

While the joys in Westbrook’s life have been many, he’s also experienced unspeakable tragedies. Westbrook’s mother was murdered in Newark a few years ago on a Newark bus. Westbrook writes about his mother’s murder in his book, Harnessing Anger, a title that he says reflects the hostility that flourished inside of him, as a result of growing up in the ghetto. Since he is all too aware of the risks of living in the inner-city, he’s now reaching out to kids in these neighborhoods who could go down the wrong path.

n 1991, he started the Peter Westbrook Foundation with Olympic teammate Mika’il Sankofa. The first class, held at the Fencer’s Club in Manhattan, was attended by only six children. Enrollment today is roughly 100 every week.

Although the Westbrook Foundation is a fencing program, it is also about education and character. It offers children structure, teaches discipline, and encourages academic success by providing a tutoring program and a monthly essay writing contest. Westbrook says, “We stress education in our program because if you just stress athletics then all we have is dumb inner-city youth that are very physically gifted, and that’s not what I’m looking for.” He has a simple rule at the Foundation: Do well in school or don’t fence. The equipment and lessons are only provided once the students have hit their books.

20_QHailed as one of the most successful inner-city sports programs in the country, Westbrook’s Foundation uses the sport of fencing to assist young people in developing their spirits, minds and bodies so that they are emotionally, physically and spiritually prepared to meet life’s challenges. It’s also developed champions. Four of the top five sabre fencers in the U.S. are Foundation students, including Keeth Smart, Akhi Spencer-El, and Herby Raynaud, members of the four-man U.S. team that won a bronze medal at the Pan Am Games in 1999. Almost half of the fencers from the 2000 U.S. Olympic team are African-American students from the Peter Westbrook Foundation. Following in Westbrook’s footsteps, Akhi Spencer-El and siblings Keeth and Erin Smart traveled to their first Olympic Games in Sydney.

While Westbrook has no biological children of his own, he says of his students at the Foundation, “I love them like they’re my own kids. I feel like a proud father.” Westbrook’s efforts are not going unnoticed. He’s received numerous awards - most recently ’Oprah Winfreys Use Your Life, Angel Award. Westbrook says “I’m a pretty lucky camper that God has blessed me with fencing to save my life, and that’s why I’m giving back to the kids that we have today.”.



by PETER WESTBROOK With Tej Harzarika
A Seven Stories Press Publication

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  • 1984 Olympic Games Bronze Medalist in Men's Sabre
  • 13 Time U.S. National Men's Sabre Champion
  • 6 Time Member of the U.S. Olympic Team
  • 3 Time Gold Medalist in the Pan American Games
  • Guinness Book of World Record Holder
  • Founder and Executive Director of the Peter Westbrook Foundation