Boxing, life coach G. Djata Bumpus dies at 65

  • G. Djata Bumpus in his apartment in Northampton in May 2019. Bumpus, a fixture of the Pioneer Valley who trained thousands how to box, died on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.  STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A photograph of G. Djata Bumpus and his son, Kwame Bumpus, taken in the late '70s. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A photograph taken of G. Djata Bumpus in the late 1970s. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/8/2019 4:42:42 PM

NORTHAMPTON — G. Djata Bumpus, who trained in former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier’s gym in Philadelphia and taught boxing for more than 30 years in the Pioneer Valley, died on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., after a short battle with cancer. He was 65.

Bumpus trained thousands of people in the sport of boxing. But lessons on fighting weren’t the only ones he passed onto his students, including those at his former Pioneer Valley Boxing School at 518 Pleasant St. 

“He always made them think differently,” said Bumpus’ daughter Namandje Bumpus, adding that some people thought of him not just as a boxing coach, but as a life coach.

Namandje said the outpouring she has received since her father’s death has been incredible and that he shaped people young and old.

“His legacy lives,” she said.

One of Bumpus’ students was Adam Rose, 28, of Northampton, who for much of 2016 trained under Bumpus.

“He was a good teacher,” Rose said. “We shared a lot of good moments.”

Rose took lessons from Bumpus in a pretty tumultuous year of his own life, he said, and Bumpus taught him about standing up for himself and when to fight in the figurative sense. 

Another student of Bumpus’ was Matthew Hunter, 41, of Hatfield, who started training with Bumpus in 2017.

“Tough old guy, smart as a whip,” Hunter said. “I really enjoyed talking to him.”

Hunter shared how he enjoyed spending time with Bumpus and hearing about his life. He also said Bumpus was a great teacher of both kids and women, and did not tolerate women being disrespected in his school.

“He had a code,” Hunter said. “And he’d tell you what it was right up front.”

Namandje, 38, is a professor at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, and she credited her father with inspiring her to become a teacher.

In addition to Namandje, Bumpus is survived by his daughter Tia Brodeur, 34; son, Kwame Bumpus, 44; and six grandchildren. He lived long enough to welcome his sixth grandchild, Brodeur’s daughter and second child, Doris.

“He had big opinions about not making kids an only child,” Brodeur said.

Bumpus is also survived by his mother, 94-year-old Rhoda Bumpus of Amherst, and five brothers, including Eshu Bumpus of Holyoke.

Namandje was 6 when she and her family moved to Amherst. She said that growing up, everyone knew who her father was.

“You couldn’t have anonymity and be Djata Bumpus’ daughter,” Namandje said.

Tia Brodeur said that she started boxing before she could remember.

“It was a huge part of our lives,” she said.

In addition to teaching his children boxing, Bumpus also coached his children and some of their friends in track.

“A lot of my friends called him dad,” Namandje said.

Bumpus was diagnosed with cancer on Aug. 30, Namandje said, and she had him move in with her and her family in Washington so that he wouldn’t face the disease alone. He had been living in an apartment in Northampton.

In October, Bumpus entered hospice in Washington, where he died.

Born in Newark, New Jersey, Bumpus grew up in Boston and came from a family of scholars. He later lived in Philadelphia, where he trained in legendary boxer Joe Frazier’s gym and got his bachelor’s degree in Russian studies from Temple University. In a May interview with the Gazette, Bumpus said he moved to the Pioneer Valley because he didn’t want his daughters to go to school in Philadelphia.

A former member of the Black Panthers, Bumpus is the author of the book, “The Voice of a Panther.” He continued to be politically vocal  later in life.

“History was also one of his loves,” Brodeur said.

Bumpus retired from teaching boxing and closed his school in March 2019. 

Namandje said her father enjoyed living in the Pioneer Valley. “He loved the community,” she said — although he did not love New England winters. As such, Namandje said a celebration of her father’s life will be held in Northampton in the summer, the details of which will be announced. 

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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