Art and Science

You're Invited to ‘The Sweet Science’ Exhibit at the Downtown Boxing Gym

The multimedia project of WDET-FM begins Wednesday, September 20. It's free and open to the public.

Did you know boxing is referred to as "the sweet science?" One expert says that's because, "you have to find the perfect balance... between hitting and not getting hit. The special requirement of this simultaneous contrast is what makes boxing so amazing."

At the Downtown Boxing Gym, our students study the sweet science -- and reading, math, history, science, computer coding -- and so much more. Our program is a safe haven where young people from across city of Detroit are nourished in mind, body and soul. It's a place where kids who want to better themselves can get a square meal, hit the books, then hit the ring. Our motto is books before boxing. We have a 100% high school graduation rate over the last 10 years, and we're proud.

You can see the gym through a new lens when WDET-FM brings “The Sweet Science,” a multimedia exhibition, to the Downtown Boxing Gym (6445 E. Vernor Highway) on Wednesday, Sept. 20 from 5:30 p.m to 8 p.m. The exhibit is part of Framed By WDET, a series of audio-visual installations that combine photography and storytelling from the public radio station journalists.

“The Sweet Science” will showcase the gym through the stories of four of our amazing students: Quintin, Rakeem, Ferris and Jordan. The exhibit will pair 16 photographs (you're getting a sneak-preview of some of them here on this page) from Detroit photographer Cyndi Elledge and audio storytelling from WDET journalist Laura Weber-Davis. You’ll be able to listen to the stories on cordless headphones, or from your mobile device.

Here’s part of the description of the exhibit:

The Sweet Science is an audio-visual storytelling exhibition of youth from the Downtown Boxing Gym in Detroit (DBG). The youth of the boxing gym gather every afternoon to study with tutors and train with coaches. They find strength in the ring and the classroom and learn to navigate the limitlessness of life’s possibilities.

Registration is free on WDET’s website or on Eventbrite.

You are cordially invited to attend, view the exhibition, tour our facility, and meet some of boxing gym staff.

Serving Our Country!

Downtown Boxing Gym Graduate Stationed in Alaska with U.S. Army

We are proud of our high school graduates pursuing winning futures and doing amazing things. Jasmine Grant is one of them. The U.S. Army specialist is far away from family and friends serving our country.

Jasmine Grant, a Downtown Boxing Gym student from 2011 to 2014, has traveled a long way from her days in Detroit. She is currently stationed in Alaska, nearly 4,000 miles away, where she serves as an automated logistical specialist in an aviation unit with the U.S. Army.

“Alaska temperatures go from about -50 in the winter to mid-90s in the summer,” she says. “During the fall we begin to lose a few minutes of daylight every day. By the winter, it's dark all day. During spring, we start to gain back daylight and the sun is always up during the summer. The winters are long, dark and cold. The summers are beautiful and amazing, but go by so fast. Plus, we're in a different time zone. Alaska is 4 hours behind Detroit.”

Jasmine, who is 19, began basic training two months after graduating from Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine in Detroit. Her Army career has also included stops in South Carolina, Virginia and Florida.

Always a good student, Jasmine says the Downtown Boxing Gym helped prepare her mentally and physically.

“Khali taught me to never give up! He also taught me, along with the others, to keep my head up, hang around people you have stuff in common with, and stay away from trouble," she says.

Jasmine also learned discipline and teamwork. In 2014, she served as a tutor at the gym, sharing her knowledge and love of learning with fellow students.

“I tutored every subject. I wanted to do it because I'm all about giving back and helping everyone," she explains. "It's great to be the reason why someone else is happy.”

When her deployment ends in 2019, Jasmine plans to enroll in classes and pursue her goal of becoming a physician. She says she’s drawn to medicine out of a desire to help others and adds she’s eager to learn more about the human body and its many complex systems.

Jasmine offers the following words of wisdom to current students:

“Love yourself. Plan for your future and make short-term and long-term goals. Stay focused on your goals and keep your head in the books.”

Jasmine, we salute you! Thank you for your service and dedication.










Beautifying Our Space!

The Downtown Boxing Gym Plants a Rain Garden

Our students, staff and volunteers got to work and got their hands dirty — digging along the side of our yard  — as part of a project that's both beautiful and practical.

The Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program is nurturing something new! It's our new rain garden and it was planted this week. So what's a rain garden?

According to experts, it's a shallow area filled with native plants that can tolerate a wide range of soil types and weather conditions. Rain gardens are designed to help hold rainwater from big storms, thanks to the deep roots they send into the soil. Those roots let water slowly permeate the ground and prevent stormwater from rushing into drains where it can overwhelm wastewater treatment systems and flush pollution into our local rivers and the Great Lakes.

The rain garden will also help the gym save money over time, thanks to reduced drainage fees on stormwater processing.

“We have kind of a unique sewer system in the Great Lakes watershed, the River Rouge watershed,” said Kyle Kentala, a regular Downtown Boxing Gym volunteer who organized the rain garden project. “When the system can’t keep up with the rain during a heavy rainfall, the drainage system hooks up with the sewer system and washes into the Great Lakes.

“The more we can educate people on this and get people on board, the less stormwater is going to go into the system, which can help with that sewer backup,” she said.

The roughly 200 square-foot rain garden sits in a spot near East Vernor that often floods after heavy rains. It’s fed by redirecting some of the downspouts that carry rainwater off the gym’s enormous roof.

Kentala says sewer and stormwater processing fees are the highest part of the gym’s water bill.

“This is a way that the gym can actively work on bringing some of those costs down,” she said.

Our rain garden features six native plant species that will provide beauty, wildlife habitat and educational and enrichment opportunities for our students:

A $600 grant from the Friends of the Rouge, the Sierra Club Great Lakes Program and Keep Growing Detroit under the Rain Gardens to the Rescue program funded the project.

We are grateful to these organizations, our students, staff and volunteers for bringing the rain garden project to life. Be sure to stop and take a look!


Rocking Out!

New IPrevail Video Filmed At Downtown Boxing Gym

Our gritty, urban boxing gym set the stage for a hard driving rock song about resilience and endurance through tough times. It was exciting to watch the project unfold.

Thick fog, dramatic lighting, drums and heavy metal transformed the Downtown Boxing Gym into a video set during filming of the music video for "Lifelines," the title track of the record released last October by Detroit band I PREVAIL. The gym was rocking during the epic production in our facility, a former bookbinding factory that is now home to our free, after-school academic and athletic program for Detroit students ages 7-18.

"It was a thrill to participate in this project," said Khali Sweeney, Founder and CEO of the Downtown Boxing Gym. "Many of our students have musical aspirations of their own. It was amazing to see this video come to life right in front of our eyes."


Here's how the band describes the song and the project:

In the words of singer Brian Burkheiser, “Lifelines” is no doubt our proudest video to date. We set out to create something that embodied what "Lifelines" as a song and as an album really meant to us. It centers around the harsh reality that life doesn't care about what you have planned. The biggest moments, whether ones of amazing opportunity or painful loss, are coming no matter what. How you choose to respond makes you who you are. That's what we wanted to express.

This video became even more special to us when we had the chance to turn our creative process into a way to bring awareness to an amazing cause. The video was filmed at a magical oasis of hope called the Downtown Boxing Gym in Detroit, with great inspiration and support from founder and CEO Coach Khali Sweeney. Coach Khali and his team are straight up HEROES, changing the lives of young people in Detroit. They bring students in from the public school system and provide a safe environment with a focus on education first, using the self discipline of reading books together with the camaraderie of a sport like boxing. They build bodies and minds with an eye to the making of future leaders. There is no such thing as a "bad kid" to this organization. To see the positive impact this is having first hand was truly inspiring and something we couldn't be happier to support. They are truly making positive lifelines and we are honored to have worked with them in their home base.

I PREVAIL is Brian Burkheiser (clean vocals), Eric Vanlerberghe (harsh vocals), Steve Menoian (lead guitar), and Dylan Bowman (rhythm guitar).  From all of  us at the Downtown Boxing Gym, thank you for sharing your spotlight with us!

Adidas + Downtown Boxing Gym: LIMITLESS

The Adidas graphic design team took an inspiration trip to Detroit in June 2017 and made a stop at the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program. They worked with our students to create a special mural by dipping old boxing gloves into paint and punching a canvas containing a hidden message. The lesson for everyone? With hard work, creativity and a winning attitude, our potential is #limitless. Watch!

Setting the Stage for Success!

New Multi-Purpose Stage to Feature Student Performances

Our newly fenced-in backyard space continues to become more functional, enhancing the Downtown Boxing Gym’s educational mission. Now we've added an innovative performance stage designed and assembled by Challenge Detroit volunteers.

Challenge Detroit fellow Claire Babala, a 2016 graduate of Michigan State University had a big idea - and now it's become a reality. While participating in the “Green Space Activation” challenge, Claire dreamed up a performance stage made of 12 wooden blocks arranged in a grid that can be separated and used for seating and easily moved and stored. The design lends itself to the stage’s multi-purpose, transitional nature.

“It can be used to host musical and dramatic performances by students at the boxing gym, as well as others from the neighborhood and throughout Detroit," Claire says. "We have discussed hosting improv classes as well as a student play from another nonprofit. The stage can also be utilized to host speeches and community events."

A wood frame attached to the sage can be used to hold up a screen for movie nights or to project logos and other images. The eyelets on the frame can hold wiring to display artwork. Holding it all together are 14 pieces of plywood, 30 two-by-fours, nails, screws and other materials. It came together thanks to the efforts of 18 volunteers and the help of Babala’s friends and family members.

“Part of the process also included fundraising to cover material costs and food the day of the event, and I found support at my host company, Brooks Kushman, at local businesses like Belle Isle Pizza, and from individuals in my network and beyond,” Babala explained.

Challenge Detroit is a fellowship program, launched five years ago, to bring together innovative, community-minded thinkers to dream big for our city. It has since served more than 40 local nonprofit organizations.

The original “Green Space Activation” challenge involved four teams working on seasonal programming, community, sustainability and long-term growth. The goal is to create a space our students can enjoy and use to further their educational opportunities.

Babala, who double-majored in professional writing and arts and humanities at MSU, each with a focus on community development and writing for the community, says she can envision many other uses for the outdoor space: a soccer field, expanded garden and basketball court.

“I hope that stage will be used for many years to come,” she says. “I believe that it is a versatile enough piece that new ways to take advantage of the structure will constantly be discovered. I also hope that it becomes a place where students can express themselves and explore their passion for performance.”

Babala says she was inspired by the talent of the many students at the Downtown Boxing Gym.

“It's important to realize that we all have the potential for greatness," she says. "With access to support and resources, there is no limit to an individual’s chances for success.”

Our heartfelt thanks go out to Claire, the rest of the Challenge Detroit fellows, and all the wonderful volunteers and contributors who took part in this summer's projects.


Cracking the Code!

Computer Coding 'Boot Camp' at the Downtown Boxing Gym

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, our middle and high school students learn the high-tech languages of computer coding, thanks to support from Grand Circus and the Detroit Auto Dealers Association.

Our students are learning to 'crack the code' for success this summer with computer coding classes -- mastering the basics of HTML 5, Java Script, CSS positioning and web design. Instructors Chrissy Lee and Chris Davis of Grand Circus are helping to lead our middle school and high school students on a journey into the fascinating world of computer programming, an important skill for anyone seeking high tech jobs of the future.

“Java Script is the coolest to learn because we get to make things move and create animations,” says Khoury Walter, 13.

Most of our students have no background in coding but they've been picking up the new skills quickly, and enjoying it too.

“For me personally it's important for our students to gain these experiences because there are not a lot of African Americans or minorities in the coding field,” our academic coordinator Kristin Lusk explained.  "It's a way to lead students to a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) career. Coding boot camp also touches on other subjects they have learned in school.”

Students gather in our computer lab for the classes three times a week. This intro to coding is expanding their horizons and opening their eyes to exciting new career possibilities.

“My favorite part is being able to create something and learn how things we use everyday work,” says Khoury Walter, 13. "I would recommend coding to anyone of any age. It's something new and interesting, but you have to pay attention to create something great.”

The classes are made possible thanks to the support and generosity of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association which is providing a grant to cover two cycles of coding extending into the fall. The Downtown Boxing Gym is grateful for the opportunity. We're excited to see where the classes lead our students into their winning futures.

Growing Our Fleet!

Six New Vans to Transport Downtown Boxing Gym Students

You've likely seen them lined up in front of our building on E. Vernor in Detroit. The Downtown Boxing Gym now has six new vans to safely transport our students to and from our free, after-school academic and athletic program each day, thanks to generous support from GM Fleet and the Dresner Foundation.

As we look ahead to a new school year, the Downtown Boxing Gym is excited to announce we have six new vans to transport our students to and from our program. The addition of a new, 6th van is a big deal for us as we continue to expand our program and add more children (and more van routes).

Did you know? We currently transport approximately 80 students each day, Monday through Friday, picking them up at various schools and homes across the city of Detroit and in some surrounding communities. Our dedicated van drivers are the first point of contact with our students. Drivers welcome the children onto the bus and chat with them about school, life, various successes and other milestones, as they make the daily trek to the gym.

When our program first began in 2007, Khali would drive students to and from the gym himself along with other staff members. We've racked up a lot of miles along the way.

Thank you to GM Fleet for providing the vehicles and to the Dresner Foundation for covering expenses, insurance, fuel, maintenance and wages for our van drivers. We are incredibly grateful for your support which is helping to drive our continued success.

Fun fact: Our vans drive 50-100 miles each day, depending on the route.

Click on the animation below to see where we go!

Van Driver Wanted!

We're seeking a responsible, experienced part-time van driver for our newest 15-passenger van to safely transport students to and from our program each day. The position is approximately 20 hours per week year-round, at a rate of $15 per hour, with the option of picking up additional field trip shifts. The routes change slightly each day but generally remain consistent. You''ll be picking up 14 students from home and school beginning at 2:30 pm and bringing them to the gym. Then, transporting them home beginning at 7:00 pm.
You must have a Michigan Chauffeur's License and clean driving record. You must be at least 25 years old. Experience driving passenger vans is preferred, as is experience working with children. The ideal candidate will be reliable, flexible, trustworthy, have good communication skills with both boxing gym staff and families, and enjoy working with students.

Interested in the van driver position? Meet our qualifications?


Supporting Our Students!

Downtown Boxing Gym Graduates Receive College Scholarships

The Downtown Boxing Gym is proud to present our first-ever Al (Blue) Lewis Scholarships. Three deserving graduates were selected to receive $1,000 each to help with college expenses. The scholarships will be given out annually to students who demonstrate positivity and productivity.

A new scholarship program at the Downtown Boxing Gym pays homage to a hero of Detroit’s boxing past while boosting our leaders of tomorrow.

Tonight, the Downtown Boxing Gym awarded its first-ever Al (Blue) Lewis Scholarships to three graduates, bestowed by the H.T. Ewald Foundation, a family-run organization that supports charities and nonprofits worldwide. Each student received $1,000 for college expenses.

Scholarship winners were: Cala Oatis, a pre-med Wayne State University student; David Davis, a student at Alabama A&M University majoring in business; and Charisma Parker, an incoming sophomore at Alabama A&M studying biology.

“This scholarship will impact me so much because now I can purchase all of my books, along with other schools supplies I need,” said Charisma. “This scholarship has taken a huge weight off my shoulders.”

To be considered, students had to submit a video, a letter of recommendation and an essay. Recipients were chosen by the gym’s academic committee.

“Our mission is to provide the best support possible to empower our students and their futures,” says Carolyn Geck, the boxing gym’s development director. “This scholarship program means that our ability to empower students continues after they leave their Downtown Boxing Gym safe-haven and head out into the next phase of their lives.”

For the winners, the money helps ease not only the financial burden of their next chapter – but an emotional one as well.

"I'm so thankful for all of the support the boxing gym has given me," said David.

"I feel like now I can accomplish anything," added Cala. "I'm proud and honored to be selected."

Power of Potential

For Wendy Ewald, a member of the H.T. Ewald Foundation’s board and granddaughter of its founder, the scholarships mark the beginning of a partnership between the foundation and the boxing gym -- the program is funded for three years -- and the end of her search for Al Lewis, a former heavyweight boxer she considers family.

Wendy’s father, Ted Ewald, was a well-known boxing promoter in Detroit and the son of H.T. Ewald, founder of the Campbell-Ewald advertising empire. Although Ted didn’t go into the family business, he was immensely dedicated to the family’s foundation and established its scholarship programs.

Ted believed in the power of potential.

“What he really wanted was to find people who were motivated, not necessarily the top students, but those who would really do something with their education and give back to society,” Wendy says.

When he wasn’t scouting scholarship recipients or working at his auto dealership, Ted was managing boxers.

“He became involved in boxing because he felt it was a way to create opportunities for talented people in Detroit's African American community,” Wendy says.

Her father mentored many fighters, she says, but Al was special.

A young man with a troubled past, Al knew little about life outside the ring. But in Al, Ted saw a determined soul destined for greatness. Taking Al under his wing, Ted served as his manager and a father figure who taught Al a lot about boxing, but even more about life.

An incredible bond was formed.

“He was really a part of our family,” Wendy says, and he knew it. “He always used to joke with me that I thought I was the oldest (sibling) in the family, but that really he was.”

After Al’s heavyweight boxing career ended – a career highlighted by a bout with Muhammad Ali --- he turned to coaching, passing down the lessons he learned to the next generation of boxers, some of whom now coach at the Downtown Boxing Gym.

A Man And A Mission

For years after her father passed away in 1996, Wendy often wondered what had become of Al. A recent search to find the man who meant so much to her brought Wendy to the Downtown Boxing Gym. Not only did she learn of Al’s whereabouts, but she discovered a place with a mission that mirrored her dad’s.

“I was very intrigued and wanted to help” she says.

From there, the scholarship program was born.

“If my dad were alive today, I think he would be thrilled about the new scholarship program at the Downtown Boxing Gym,” Wendy says. “Al Lewis was certainly a model as a talented fighter, trainer, and mentor who came from an incredibly tough environment. This new scholarship program connects two of my dad's passions for helping people in Detroit.”

When it came time to name the new scholarship program, Carolyn says the choice was clear.

“The H.T. Ewald Foundation left the naming decision up to the boxing gym, but we wouldn't have it any other way,” she says. “Naming the scholarship after Al (Blue) Lewis allows us to honor his work and influence, while we combine the two most important aspects of our program --- books and boxing.”


Out And About!

DBG Experiences Detroit City FC

Our students had a blast taking in the excitement and high energy of a semi-professional soccer game under the lights in Hamtramck. Thank you to fans who also donated soccer equipment to our program.

Multi-colored smoke exploded from the stands and settled onto the turf as 30 students and chaperones from the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program cheered. That was just one of the highlights of a thrilling, fast-paced soccer game July 14 at Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck. It was the Detroit City Football Club’s regular season finale against Lansing United. For some of our students, it was their first time at a stadium, let alone a live soccer match.

“It was fun and exciting,” said 14 year-old-Madison who added that the atmosphere was “hype.”

Since the team was founded in 2012, Detroit City FC has been dedicated to supporting the community through partnerships and philanthropy. Not only did the club donate tickets to the game, they teamed up with Metro Detroit Chevy Dealers to collect gently used soccer gear for our students to enjoy in our fenced-in outdoor space. Even though our focus is books and boxing, we have some budding soccer players among our 140 students.

“It was great to see the kids having fun and experiencing something new,” said academic coordinator Mike Mroz. “At the Downtown Boxing Gym one of our goals is to give our students access to events and activities they’ve never tried before.”

Thank you to the fans who donated soccer balls, cleats and shin guards to our program and a huge thank you to DCFC for an unforgettable night. For the record, the game ended in a 3-3 tie. Good luck to the home team as they head to the playoffs!