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February 24, 2023

Fighting for Change: U.S. Boxers Lead through Empowerment

PRESS RELEASE – February 24, 2023




On Friday, February 24, 2023, the U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs concluded “Promoting Girls’ and Women’s Empowerment: Building Confidence and Leadership Through Boxing,” a six-day boxing and leadership program in Jerusalem and the West Bank and Gaza.  U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs Chief George Noll said, “This program served as an example of the power of sports to bring peoples together, to instill self-confidence and resilience in girls and young women, and to create opportunities for Americans and Palestinians to exchange culture, ideas, and insights from their lived experiences.”


Over the course of the week, the trainers helped 270 Palestinian girls and women build their confidence, leadership skills, and fitness.  Participants came from across Jerusalem and the West Bank and some participated virtually from Gaza.


The four boxers included Raquel Harris, Tibor Jushaz, Melissa St. Vil, and Ronica Jeffrey.  The delegation has backgrounds in entrepreneurship, physical therapy, and women’s empowerment.  Their accomplishments include a World Kickboxing Championship (Harris), a former member of the Hungarian National Boxing Team (Jushaz), a Women’s International Boxing Association lightweight title holder (St. Vil), and an International Boxing Federation World Super Featherweight Championship (Jeffrey).


The four boxers discussed their contributions to the sport, specific American boxing techniques, and the sports’ contribution to the U.S. civil rights movement. The workshops were modeled after a high-level training camp, with the participants remaining together from early morning until late afternoon.  Participants engaged in cardiovascular, core exercises, weight training, and stretching.  Each day included a boxing class as well as lessons on moral responsibility, self-esteem, self-confidence, self-control, and discipline that the sport requires.  The American trainers held a virtual session to engage women and girls in Gaza.


U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs Public Affairs Counselor Carissa Gonzalez said, “We hope that the young women who get the chance to meet our athletes will be inspired to reach their full potential as leaders and advocates for health, sports, and peaceful conflict resolution in their communities.”


The U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs coordinated with U.S.-based Humpty Dumpty Institute as well as local NGO, Palestine: Sports for Life and its co-founder, Tamara Awartani, to host the program.  The boxing delegation of four American boxers traveled to Jerusalem and the West Bank as part of an U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs Public Diplomacy grant program.


The U.S. Department of State sports diplomacy programs utilize sports to engage on and teach about American culture while providing a platform to develop participants’ leadership skills, promote inclusion, and show young people how success in athletics can translate into achievements in the classroom and in life.


For more information on the coaches, see their biographies (attached).  For more information about the U.S. Office of Palestinian Affairs’ cultural affairs programs, go online to https://palestinianaffairs.state.gov.  For information about the Humpty Dumpty Institute, go online to www.thehdi.org.  For further information about Palestine: Sports for Life, go online to ps4l.org.


Trainer’s Bios



Ms. Raquel Harris


Raquel Harris is a World Kickboxing Champion and USA ranked boxer from New York City.  She also owns a personal training company where she teaches Martial Arts.  Entrepreneurship in the sports industry is an interest of Ms. Harris.  Her company, “The Champion Experience” has been featured in NBC Sports, Shape Magazine, and The New York Times.  Ms. Harris has worked in the industry, with children and adults, since 2008.


Mr. Tibor Jushaz

Mr. Tibor Juhasz emigrated to the United States in the early 2000s and became an American citizen in 2017.  In his native Hungary, Mr. Jushaz was a member of the Hungarian National Boxing Team.  Based in New York City, Tibor trains under the world-famous boxer Lennox Blackmore at Gleason’s Gym https://www.gleasonsgym.com/.  Mr. Jushaz is also a physical therapist specializing in sports related issues.


Ms. Melissa St. Vil

was born in Long Island, New York, and has been boxing professionally since March of 2007.  She attended school at Reed Junior High School in Central Islip, New York, spent some of her early teenage years in Haiti at the school of Quisqueya and attended Cicero-North Syracuse High School in North Syracuse, NY.  She later attended college at Mohawk Valley Community college.  Ms. St. Vil competed in the New York City Golden Gloves where she made it to the semi-finals.  After the Golden Gloves, she decided to begin a career as a professional boxer, fighting top female boxers and beating them in their hometowns.  She the WIBA Lightweight title, an accomplishment for an early career boxer.


Ms. Ronica Jeffrey

Ronica Jeffrey is the International Women’s Boxing Federation World Super Featherweight champion.  She is a 3X Golden Gloves Champion, Women’s National Champion, and a former World Champion with a 17-1 professional boxing record.  She teaches strength & conditioning training in addition to boxing which is used for workouts.  She is excited to help empower women to be their best selves.