Renowned French Photographer Brings History to Life at DBG

Award-winning French photographer Nicolas Henry has traveled around the world to create his latest book, depicting African history – from slavery to freedom. Now he’s completing the final chapter in Detroit at the Downtown Boxing Gym and teaching our students valuable lessons while providing hands-on training in photography and set design.

The international project, Worlds in the Making, will include a series of photographs and exhibitions presenting tales from more than 13 countries and celebrating the diversity of our world’s cultures and ethnicities.

Henry will be in residence at our gym through mid-November building elaborate, larger-than-life sets and taking powerful photographs reenacting milestone moments in history. One recent photo included floor-to-ceiling trees, foliage, and even a horse, made from painted cardboard. Another image included a boat he built in the boxing gym’s garage, which has been temporarily transformed into a studio.

“It’s a story that goes from Africa to America,” Henry explains. “It speaks about segregation in different ways in community history. Also, I am celebrating some of the black heroes who were freedom fighters against slavery. I’m trying to make a story that brings communities together.”

Henry is known for combining community engagement and personal expression with photography, theater techniques, cinema lighting, and handmade prop and set design in his work.

“From a technical standpoint, we are hoping our students learn how to use Photoshop, build a set, and learn how to maneuver different lights to enhance a photograph,” says Katie Anderson, the Downtown Boxing Gym’s academic director. “We’re also hoping they’re inspired by experiencing photography in a new way. Our students who have access to art classes in school generally love their art classes, but very few have had the exposure that Nicolas can provide in terms of showing them all of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into just one photograph. For those of our students who do not have access to art classes in school, it has already been really incredible to see how interested and engaged they are in the photography process.”

Henry was born in France and is a graduate of Les Beaux Arts de Paris. He was trained in the cinema industry as a fiction director at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, Canada. He has traveled around the world, exhibiting his work from New York to Japan, Nepal, Nigeria, Korea and Argentina. For his current project, he also took a series of photographs in Chicago and collaborated with nonprofit group The Arts Palette. An exhibition of the Detroit and Chicago photos is being planned for 2019.

“We are also hoping our students will learn a bit about their own history through the Civil Rights and abolitionist themes that are showcased in this project,” Anderson said. “As well as African American heroes they may not have learned about yet, such as Harriet Tubman and Mary Prince.”

Click here to learn more about Nicolas Henry’s work.

AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer helps strengthen college, career prep

The Downtown Boxing Gym is pleased to welcome Samantha Rudelich, our new AmeriCorps VISTA program volunteer. (VISTA stands for Volunteers in Service to America.) Samantha will be with us through August 2019, focused on expanding college and career resources for our students and more.

Samantha, 23, is a 2017 graduate of the University of Alabama with a degree in business management. She served in AmeriCorps’ City Year Detroit program until June of this year.

While working with City Year, she visited the Downtown Boxing Gym and says she was immediately interested in the work we do. She later saw a listing for an AmeriCorps position at the gym and decided to apply and commit to another year of service. We're so glad she did! Samantha is doing some important work with us, including hatching new ideas and implementing strategies to help prepare our students for bright futures.

“My position focuses on building out volunteer capabilities and college and career readiness,” she said. “Kristin Lusk (Downtown Boxing Gym academic coordinator) and I are working a five-year program that would equip our students with the tools to graduate from our program and high school prepared for success. This includes job training, job shadowing opportunities, lessons on self and career exploration, scholarship and financial aid planning, panel discussions, SAT/ACT prep, and community service opportunities.”

VISTA members serve full-time for 12 months in exchange for a living allowance and, at the end of their tenure, a choice of a $6,095 education award to use for educational expenses or an $1,800 cash stipend. Samantha’s term will run through August 2019.

“I’ve always had a love for Detroit because it reminds me of family and community,” she says. “The Downtown Boxing Gym is special and characterized by hard-working, kind people that have taught me so much about community and resilience. When I graduated from college, I wanted to come back and serve in the city in some kind of education-focused capacity.”

Samantha grew up in Ann Arbor and spent a lot of time in Detroit while growing up. Though she studied business in college, she has a deep passion for revolutionizing education, thanks in part her mother, who has worked in public schools as an accountant, and her sister, who is a teacher.

Her long-term plans include graduate school for joint master’s degrees in law and public policy.

“I want to focus on criminal defense and reforming the system to prevent the school-to-prison pipeline,” she says.

In the meantime, Samantha is enjoying settling in, connecting with our students and being encouraged to try new ideas.

“This is an incredible opportunity to leverage community resources so our students have multiple options to pursue once they graduate from high school,” she says. “I hope to gain a deeper connection to our community which I have great love and appreciation for. I always try my absolute best, because anything less would be a disservice to our students.”

Please join us in welcoming Samantha to the Downtown Boxing Gym family!


Meet Our New Academic Director, Katie Anderson

The Downtown Boxing Gym is thrilled to welcome Katie Anderson, our new Academic Director responsible for academic programming and overseeing our full-time and part-time academic staff.

Katie is a graduate of Michigan State University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s in educational technology. She previously taught at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, a Detroit public school, and at a Catholic school in Chicago. In college, she served as program coordinator for The Motor City Lyric Opera, a Detroit nonprofit that brings free opera programming to elementary students in Detroit public schools.

Katie comes from a long line of teachers and says empowering and educating young people is part of her DNA.

"My grandma was a teacher and as the oldest first cousin of sixteen, all growing up in the same area, I was the natural babysitter/tutor for my family for as long as I can remember," she says. "The most rewarding part of my job is getting phone calls years later from students and parents in my first few classes to brag about making honor roll, passing a tough test, or making a basketball team. Developing long lasting relationships with my students is really important to me and I love that I am still a part of some of their lives, even though I am no longer their classroom teacher. To me, that is a sign of a job well done. "

Katie says she was inspired to join the Downtown Boxing Gym the first time she walked through our doors. Her goal for the academic program is help all of our students reach their greatest potential, while partnering with their teachers, family members, and the community to give students the support they need to succeed.

When she's not at work, she says family is her primary focus.

"I am very close with my large extended family," Katie says. "As I mentioned, I'm the oldest of sixteen first cousins, all of whom went to the same schools and grew up in the same neighborhood together.  I watch two of the youngest, ages 4 and 6, weekly and help with them after school. We are always doing something together on the weekends - biking in Detroit, watching the Spartans football team every Saturday in the fall, and just spending time together."

Please join us in welcoming Katie to our Downtown Boxing Gym family! Click HERE to learn about additional members of our team!




Best Wishes to our U-M Summer Interns

Summer flew by and a talented pair of summer interns from the University of Michigan helped make it a breeze. Sophia Filipe, who’s starting her sophomore year at U-M, and Collin Beavan, a U-M junior, made their marks — and a bunch of new friends — during their time at the Downtown Boxing Gym this summer. They took away some valuable lessons, too.

“This experience has been very unique,” said Filipe, 18, who considered the DBG internship her first official job. “I’ve done so many different tasks. I was in charge of creating a social-emotional learning schedule for the summer, an eight-week schedule. I did a lot of research. I love working with the kids. I would consider some of them my true friends.”

Beavan, who just turned 21, worked as a grant management and development intern. He put his experience with research grants to work writing and editing applications for nonprofit grants, gathering and tracking data, and doing grant research, plus coordinating events including volunteer day in June. At the end of each day, he also got to hang out and interact with our students.

“This internship opened me up to a whole new world, just researching areas and finding out how you can help a community,” Beavan said. “It was a really eye-opening experience coming from a small town to big, urban Detroit.”

Both Sophia and Collin found their way to us via the university’s Applebaum Internship Program, which connects students to openings with nonprofits and arts organizations in Detroit.

Back to School

Now that they’ve wrapped up their internships, Sophia and Collin have both resumed the role of "students." At U-M, Filipe plans to double-major in organizational studies and international studies. She was born and raised in Ann Arbor but also lived for a time in England and China, thanks to her father’s job at Ford. Filipe says she loves Detroit and wants to help make positive change in the city.

"I think it's great that there are programs like [the Downtown Boxing Gym],” she said. “I think what Khali and everyone is doing here is beyond amazing and I’m honored to be a part of it. I’ve already decided I’m coming back to volunteer.”

Beavan was born and attended elementary school in Grand Rapids but moved to the tiny village of Rosebush, Mich., population 368, near Mount Pleasant. He plans to major in psychology with a minor in law, justice and social change, and says his experience this summer convinced him to pursue a career as a lawyer who works with nonprofits.

“I thought it was amazing,” he said of his experience at the gym. “I wish I had something similar when I was growing up.

“The opportunities they give to kids are things that I don’t even see being offered in high schools in Grand Rapids. They do a great job keeping students involved in the community, keeping them busy and showing them that there’s a larger world out there and giving them the tools they need to succeed. It’s an awesome program.”

Beavan also says he’s hoping to be able to visit the gym this year as a volunteer, but says his research labs will keep him pretty busy this fall and winter.

We’ll miss the great work and personalities Sophia and Collin brought to the gym each day, but we wish them a successful school year. We know they both have bright futures ahead!

Shamrock 555 Awards Student Scholarships

We are so proud of Downtown Boxing Gym graduate, Melanie Rayford, one of the first-ever recipients of a $10,000 impact scholarship from Shamrock 555 The Stephen Luigi Piazza Foundation.

Her reaction was priceless - a mix of shock, joy, and a tidal wave of emotion. Melanie Rayford appeared stunned and grateful as she was called up to the podium August 23 during the first annual Shamrock 555 golf outing at Cherry Creek Golf Club in Shelby Township. She and Mosaic young artist, Amari Harris, were both presented with surprise $10,000 checks to help jumpstart their bright futures.

"Thank you so much for everything. This is really big because college is very expensive," Melanie told the crowd while fighting back tears. "I thought I wasn’t going to be able to go because of all the expenses."

But thanks to this scholarship and others, Rayford is well on her way. She's already moved into a dorm room at Wayne State University and started her freshman year. She'll be studying software engineering with plans to develop apps in the future.

"Melanie is always working to better herself in any way possible," said Ryan Houlihan, chairman of the Shamrock 555 Foundation. "She is a leader to other students and has inspired many to pursue their dreams as she has."

Created by our beloved mentor, supporter and friend, Stephen Luigi Piazza, Shamrock 555's mission is to "continue supporting the endeavors of organizations dedicated to the betterment of children’s educational and social needs."

The foundation will carry on the philanthropic legacy of SLP who passed away earlier this year after courageously battling cancer. Stephen served on the advisory board of the Downtown Boxing Gym and was one of our biggest advocates and champions. While was undergoing treatment, he decided to form the foundation.

"Stephen spoke to us from his heart and shared his vision and desire of continuing to help those in need, especially children," said Janet Honess, Stephen's partner. "From that moment, and with his guidance, the Shamrock 555 Foundation took root."

Melanie's mother, Lynn Rayford, was there among the crowd for the emotional presentation. She praised the Downtown Boxing Gym for changing the course of her daughter's life and giving her the tools she needs to succeed.

"As a single mother, being able to have her go to a facility with strong, positive male role models, with the focus on tutoring and education - it made such a huge difference," she said. "Any issue Melanie had, any test she had to study for, any big project, she got the help she needed at the boxing gym. She came home with everything completed and she got good grades. The staff let her know about scholarships and helped her apply for different things. She gained confidence and she graduated from high school prepared for college. We are truly grateful."

The Shamrock 555 Foundation is just getting started. Click HERE to learn more or make a donation.


Meet the Downtown Boxing Gym's New Apprentice

Downtown Boxing Gym student Kadeem Anderson is among our next generation of leaders. Thanks to a grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, he is receiving leadership training to ensure the longevity of our program for years to come.

The newest face at the Downtown Boxing Gym is a familiar one to longtime staff and previous students.

Kadeem Anderson, a 2015 graduate of our program, is the boxing gym’s new apprentice under founder and CEO, Khali Sweeney. Anderson, 21, is putting his passion for helping students to work while learning the ins and outs of running the gym.

“Basically, I’m learning how to be Khali Junior,” he jokes.

Anderson, who lives in Detroit with his mother and the youngest of his five brothers, first began attending the boxing gym when he was 12. He's been away for a few years, having graduated from Lansing Eastern High School and enrolling in college - but, he's excited to be back.

Kadeem first discovered the Downtown Boxing Gym after his uncle, then a coach at the gym, invited him to come by. “I fell in love with it,” he says.

Kadeem participated in both boxing and academics, excelling in both. What ignited his passion, he says, was simply Khali’s mission to offer a positive alternative for students who live in tough neighborhoods with poor schools and minimal resources.

“Many kids in the inner city are susceptible to the streets and drugs and bad influences,” Anderson says. “Khali's program gets kids further away from that. It's a safe haven and a place to learn, grow and be inspired to do better."

"What's so great about Kadeem is that he has the experience of being a Downtown Boxing Gym student just a few years ago. He grew up with our program," says Downtown Boxing Gym executive director Jessica Hauser. "Kadeem is closer in age to our students and can relate well to to them. He's also a role model, and students look to him as an example. But, he also still has room to learn and grow - so being an apprentice is a great learning and growth experience for him."

Journey To Apprenticeship

Anderson grew up in Detroit but moved to Lansing in 2013 to be with two of his older brothers who lived there to attend better schools.

“I felt like I wasn’t getting the passion from the teachers,” he says of his time in Detroit. “I just felt like they were passing me along. I wasn’t learning what I was supposed to be learning. I felt like I was behind, even though I was doing pretty well in class.”

Even while in Lansing, Kadeem stayed connected with the gym, which set him up with a mentor to get him ready for college.

He attended Oakland University, where he completed pre-med classes, but left after his sophomore year, saying he jumped into college too quickly. He then obtained a Certified Nursing Assistant license, figuring it would be a good addition to his resume.

But Sweeney, he says, wasn’t pleased.

“He said, ‘I really see a lot in you,’ and that’s when he offered me the position,” Anderson says.

He accepted it on the spot.

“I felt like I was offered this opportunity for a reason, so I took it.”

Since then, Anderson has been at the gym every weekday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., absorbing leadership skills from Khali, working with students and learning public speaking skills from his highly sought-after mentor.

“Mostly it entails basically learning about how to run a successful nonprofit, the ins and outs of everybody’s position, getting to know the students on a personal level, where they are from, their home life, and how everyone in the building works together as a team,” he says.

Eventually, Kadeem says he plans to continue his education in medicine, possibly at Wayne State University's medical school. But, right now he's focused on learning the skills needed to become a leader, someone who could potentially run the boxing gym program in the future.

“I have a lot of time ahead of me and I believe in doing as much as possible when I’m young, and I’m really passionate about the students,” he says. “Right now the boxing gym is my main focus and priority."

The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. foundation is providing $250,000 in funding each year for 2018 and 2019, the largest grant the boxing gym has received to date. Funds will support the hiring of additional full-time, professional educators and enable the program to bring in more students with the goal of reaching 250 students by 2020. The apprenticeship program is also covered by the grant. The gym’s long-term goal is to open more facilities in Detroit and around the country.

Celebrating Our Seniors: Congratulations, Dorian!

About this series: The Downtown Boxing Gym is incredibly proud of our 100% high school graduation rate – a track record of success that has continued every year since 2007 thanks to the hard work and dedication of our students, staff and volunteers. As graduation approaches, we’re celebrating our Class of 2018 seniors and their bright futures.

Dorian Hogan entered the Downtown Boxing Gym as an aspiring boxer. He leaves as a talented young pianist and budding music producer.

Hogan, a senior at River Rouge High School who turned 18 in May, is largely self-taught on the ivories. He learned to play by ear and learned the very basics on the gym’s piano from Ivan Moshchuk, a visiting concert pianist.

“He learned A, B, C, D, however it goes… I’m not a pianist, so I don’t know,” said Dorian’s mother, Tamika Hogan, who works as the boxing gym's transportation coordinator among other duties. “And Moshchuk also taught him a couple tunes like the alphabet and stuff like that. After he left, [Dorian] just continued to play and play. And one day Khali [Sweeney, the Downtown Boxing Gym's founder and CEO] came to me and said, ‘Tamika, come here and hear Dorian play the piano.’”

Dorian learned to play classical piano standards like Beethoven’s “Für Elise” and “Moonlight Sonata.” He also started playing R&B songs.

“What I learned about him is as long as he could hear the song, it only took him a day [to learn to play it],” said Tamika. “Every day, he learned a new song to play. It was like he had full training... it was amazing."

From there, famed music producer Jeff Bass, who produced Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” heard about Dorian and donated the boxing gym's music studio, complete with a recording booth and pro music production tools. You can learn more about the music studio in the video above.

When Dorian came to the boxing gym five years ago, it was to box, Tamika says. And boxing was good to him, taking him to places like Ireland to compete in tournaments, where he did well, advancing to the championship level in several tournaments before suffering defeat.

But, music is now his passion.

His family has opened up its own studio and record label, called Project 28, in an office building in Oak Park. Dorian works as a producer and makes beats for the label, which records R&B, hip hop and inspirational music.

Tamika, who has two other sons, says she’s excited to see her youngest child spread his wings and graduate.

"I’m excited to say I’ve got three high school graduates," she says. "I’m very proud of that.”

Congratulations, Dorian and all of our Downtown Boxing Gym graduates. The future is looking bright for the Class of 2018!



Celebrating Our Seniors: Congratulations, Takiyah!

About this series: The Downtown Boxing Gym is incredibly proud of our 100% high school graduation rate – a track record of success that has continued every year since 2007 thanks to the hard work and dedication of our students, staff and volunteers. As graduation approaches, we’re celebrating our Class of 2018 seniors and their bright futures.

Takiyah I. first came to the Downtown Boxing Gym about three years ago, following the lead of her younger sisters, twins Makyla and Makayla.

“The twins were so excited about it so she started coming as well,” says her mother, Teasha Andrews, a familiar at the boxing gym front desk. Teasha greets visitors and signs people in daily.

Now Takiyah is finishing her final three credits before graduating from Martin Luther King, Jr. High School in Detroit. Andrews says her daughter came to the gym to focus more on academics than boxing. She took advantage of the computer lab, tutoring, mentoring, and strength and conditioning sessions. She even took a couple turns in the ring.

“She liked it. She was like, ooh, I didn’t think it would make me so tired,” Andrews says about those early bouts.

Takiyah is a hard worker, she works two part-time jobs in addition to school.

“She loves volleyball,” Andrews says. “She does hair, she does praise dance in the church, her grades are pretty good. She has a job. She’s a good kid.”

Takiyah is considering various options for the future. She has expressed interest in nursing, cosmetology and even serving our country in the US Navy. She's already been accepted to Wayne County Community College.

Whatever Taikyah decides to do, she has plenty of fans in her corner rooting for her at the Downtown Boxing Gym. Takiyah, we’re so proud of you and all of our graduates! Can't wait to see you walk across the stage!

Celebrating Our Seniors: Congratulations, Kristopher!

About this series: The Downtown Boxing Gym is incredibly proud of our 100% high school graduation rate – a track record of success that has continued every year since 2007 thanks to the hard work and dedication of our students, staff and volunteers. As graduation approaches, we’re celebrating our Class of 2018 seniors and their bright futures.

To hear his grandmother tell it, Kristopher S. was a dazzling, serious athlete — but a struggling student — when he first walked into the Downtown Boxing Gym as a ninth grader four years ago.

“It’s been boxing and academics,” says his grandmother, Laverne Jackson. “He’s doing better now. He’s graduating in June. He’s interested in veterinary science, so he wants to be a veterinarian.”

Shipman, 18, who lives in Detroit, will graduate from Ferndale High School, where he’s now a senior. He was a standout football player in middle school, where he earned 22 trophies. (“Some of them were as tall as him,” Jackson says.) But then he tore ligaments in both knees, ending his ability to run. No more football or basketball.

It was also a struggle to get him to study, Jackson says. So she did a simple Google search for a place that was good for athletically gifted kids who struggled with academics, and she found the gym.

“He needed direction and he got it there,” says Jackson, who works in special education at Ferndale Schools. “I’m really thankful.”

At the gym, Shipman quickly took to boxing and started attending our free after school academic and athletic program four days a week to work out, hit the ring, and tackle his school books.

Shipman’s future plans include attending Oakland Community College to do his prerequisites, then transferring to Oakland University to study to be a vet.

“I would like readers to know that the Downtown Boxing Gym is the best,” Jackson says. “Anything a kid needs, they can get it there. They have everything. It’s a great place to learn social skills. How to be a man, really.”

Thanks for being a part of the Downtown Boxing Gym family, Kristopher and congratulations on your graduation. We are so proud!

Celebrating Our Seniors: Congratulations, Melanie!

About this series: The Downtown Boxing Gym is incredibly proud of our 100% high school graduation rate – a track record of success that has continued every year since 2007 thanks to the hard work and dedication of our students, staff and volunteers. As graduation approaches, we’re celebrating our Class of 2018 seniors and their bright futures.

Melanie R. is one of our shining stars and the recent winner of a four-year, $20,000 Coleman A. Young Foundation college scholarship for her proven leadership potential. On June 5, she will graduate from Cass Technical High School along with 589 classmates at Ford Field.

Melanie is the essence of the Downtown Boxing Gym’s principle that education changes everything. She began attending our program three years ago and gained self-confidence through fitness while achieving academic success with the help of our tutors. The scholarship she won will help her pursue her dream of becoming a software engineer and developing amazing mobile apps. Funds will be used to pay for tuition, fees, room and board, books, and transportation.

“The gym helped not only with my self-esteem because I lost a great amount of weight from my 10th grade year that changed my physical appearance, but they also worked with me on my math school work,” Melanie explained. “They helped raise my grade from an F to a B by working with me every day. They not only helped me to get one assignment done, but also made sure I knew how to do that same problem any time I see it again throughout life.”

College preparation is an important component at the Downtown Boxing Gym. Melanie visited a variety of college campuses with our team. This fall, she will study software engineering at Wayne State University. She says decision was an easy one, inspired by her grandmother.

“My grandmother had a love and passion for engineering. She pursued engineering in the automotive field,” Melanie said. “I knew I wanted to do something with computers, so I looked up different engineering careers and when I read what a software engineer did, it automatically fit everything I knew I wanted to do in my career.

“The gym also inspired me to be a software engineer with the different programs they took us to that dealt with technology like RocketFiber, TechShop Detroit, and the Wayne State Engineering Summer Program we attended.”

During her time at the boxing gym, Melanie gave back as a peer tutor and an event coordinator. Outside the gym, she also participated in an anti-bullying club and Big Brother Big Sister. Her creative mind is always thinking about different ways to use technology. She already has ideas for various software apps to assist with the education of other students and reduce paper usage at the gym.

“My major is Computer Science because it covers software engineering and many other subjects like coding and how to program Adobe Java,” Melanie said. “My professional goal is to build a free education program that teaches STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) to all Detroit Public School kids. I would also like to develop an app for the gym that can help tutors and an app for the van pickups and drop offs so we can use less paper and ink.”

Much like our founder and CEO Khali Sweeney, Melanie has a dream of helping children grow through education. She says one important lesson she learned at the boxing gym is to always give back – a lesson she will carry with her for the rest of her life.

“Khali inspired me and I want to have a nonprofit organization just like him,” Melanie said. “With my organization, I’d like to help kids build an interest in technology. I haven’t thought it all the way through, but I know I want to have an organization that helps get kids off the street and educates them just like Khali.”

Congratulations, Melanie! Your Downtown Boxing Gym family is proud. We know you’ll accomplish anything you set your mind to – and we’ll be cheering you on along the way.