Boxing Gym Blog

Meeting the Challenge!

Challenge Detroit Unveils Outdoor Plans

The sky’s the limit as Challenge Detroit fellows share their innovative ideas for our outdoor space at the Downtown Boxing Gym.


Challenge Detroit unveils plans for the long-term growth of the Downtown Boxing Gym’s outdoor space

Imagine a running track that flows from inside to outside. Imagine a butterfly garden for students to get closer to nature. Imagine an outdoor learning space for science projects in the warm spring and summer months. These are just some of the creative ideas specially designed for the Downtown Boxing Gym by a program called Challenge Detroit.

Challenge Detroit is a fellowship program that brings together innovative, community-minded thinkers to dream big for our city. Since its inception 5 years ago, Challenge Detroit has served more than 40 local non-profit organizations. Add the Detroit Boxing Gym to the growing list!

“We really believe in the mission of the boxing gym,” says program director Shelley Danner. “We truly believe it’s important to develop our youth – they are the future of our city.”

Ready, Set – Grow!

At the start of the challenge, the fellows visited the gym to see firsthand what our program is all about. Coach Khali Sweeney spoke and the fellows got to meet some of the students in our free, after-school program. The impact was immediate and profound.

Khali has always dreamt of having a functional and fun outdoor space for the students at our gym, a clean, safe place where they can learn and play. Thanks to the hard work done by the fellows from Challenge Detroit, Khali’s dream now has a vision and a blueprint.

The “Green Space Activation” challenge sought to create a space our children can enjoy while also providing a greater variety of educational opportunities and activities. The goal was also to connect this space to the community and the surrounding neighborhood. With that in mind, the fellows spent a great deal of time speaking not only with our students, staff and volunteers, but with the community.

A crowd gathers at the Downtown Boxing Gym for Challenge Detroit's presentation

A crowd gathers at the Downtown Boxing Gym for Challenge Detroit’s presentation

Team Approach

The Challenge Detroit fellows worked in 4 teams: seasonal programming, community, sustainability, and long-term growth. At the end of the 5-week program, they unveiled their concepts during a February 17, 2017 presentation at the boxing gym. The program included renderings and implementation plans, which will help guide the Downtown Boxing Gym’s leaders as we look to turn these concepts into reality.

“What’s most important to us is that the work that our fellows do on these projects, the ideas they generate, will be tangible, useable, and implementable, “ Danner said. “It’s a collective community idea. That’s what excites me and energizes me. My hope is this accelerates bringing that space to life.”

Want to help implement Challenge Detroit’s creative ideas? Champion a Child.
Donate today to support our efforts.

Stretching Our Minds!

Yoga at the Downtown Boxing Gym

The sounds of the boxing gym are unmistakable.

From jumping rope to gloves hitting the heavy bag to the ringing of the bell, the gym has a rhythm all its own.

Students at the Downtown Boxing Gym participate in a Monday evening yoga class.

Students at the Downtown Boxing Gym participate in a Monday evening yoga class.

It may seem like an unusual setting to roll out a yoga mat. But the Downtown Boxing Gym and the Humble Warrior Project are proving that right hooks and downward dogs can co-exist in a powerful and peaceful way.

Every Monday at 5 pm, yoga experts Dan Gottlieb and Nikki Fayne Jacobs lead a yoga practice that incorporates movement and meditation. Nikki says the goal is to teach the kids the “spirit-filled connections between mind and body.”

Humble Beginnings
It all started when Nikki and Dan attended a benefit for the gym. That experience inspired them to collaborate with the Downtown Boxing Gym, and the Humble Warrior Project was born.

Nikki and Dan lead our students through a variety of movements and poses, the benefits of which extend far beyond the yoga mat.

The goal is to help each student open up to the physical and emotional power they posses. The students tap into their “prana,” or power. They begin to let their light shine, which in turn, allows others’ lights to shine.

Through the practice of disciplined movement, the mind and body work in unison. Nikki says the students learn to be a master of their actions, rather than a prisoner of their reactions. The goal is teach students they can thrive in any environment; they can do anything they set their minds to.

Sense of Purpose
Dan says he feels a deep sense of purpose when sharing his love of yoga with students at the Downtown Boxing Gym.

“I’m not giving back, as much as I’m being given the opportunity to learn from these future political leaders and business owners. It has honestly changed my outlook on Mondays,” he says. “Before the Humble Warrior Project, Mondays were not high on my favorable list. Since we launched in November, I look forward to Mondays, and the drive down Vernor to the gym.”

Nikki agrees that the most meaningful part of the program is the relationships she is building with our young people at the boxing gym.

“I love having the opportunity to enjoy the company of the kids whose paths I might not normally cross,” she says. “Sharing space, time and love.”

Winning in the Ring!

Meet Our Silver Gloves National Champion!

The Downtown Boxing Gym has a new national champion. 13 year-old Josue won the Boys Open 12-13 year old title at the National Silver Gloves Competition in Kansas City, Missouri on February 4.

Josue defeated Isaac Strother of Houston, Texas by decision to win the title. The victory also earned Josue the number one national ranking in the 12-13 year-old age group.

“When they raise your hand after all that work put in, it all pays off,” Josue said about the moment he was crowned a champion.

Josue National Championship

Congratulations, Josue! 2017 Silver Gloves National Champion!

This was just the teen’s 8th fight and he now has 4 belts to show for it. Not bad for a student who only started boxing 2 years ago.

Josue trains under Coach Sonic Luna at the Downtown Boxing Gym. He says Josue’s ring IQ is far more advanced than most 13 year-olds. He can also throw “punches in bunches,” according to his coach.

Perhaps most importantly, Josue wants to put in the work required to become a great boxer.

“If you can find a kid that listens to you and has great work ethic, you can make him a champion,” said Coach Sonic, who can now boast his first national champion after having two fighters make it to the semifinals.

Strong Boxing, Strong Academics

Josue is also making great strides outside the ring. In addition to completing his regular homework, he increased his math skills this summer with ALEKS (Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Space). He participated in workshops where he learned about health education and got to meet one-on-one with former pro boxer Tarick Salmaci during one of our many career exposure sessions.

Back in the ring at the Silver Gloves, Coach Sonic and Josue came up with a game plan to come out aggressive from the opening bell. The strategy worked as Josue won all three rounds clean.

“Going into the fight, I was a little nervous when I saw the size of the crowd,” Josue explained. “But that all went away when the bell rang. I told myself I got this.”

Josue trained 5 to 6 days a week for the fight and sometimes traveled out-of-state to find sparring partners.

“It teaches me that hard work will always pay off,” Josue said of his big win. “You’re going to be successful if you make the choices that you need to.”

Next up for Josue could be a trip to the Arnold competition in Columbus, Ohio in March. The Junior Olympics are also on his radar.

For now, he’s just happy to hang another championship belt in his bedroom.

“It feels good,” he said. “It feels like I’m unstoppable.”

Mentoring For Success!

Gym Becomes TV Studio for a Day

The Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program recently hosted a panel of experts for a special taping of the American Black Journal Roadshow with an engaging discussion led by Stephen Henderson on the importance of mentoring.

Mentoring for Success panel

Mentoring For Success panel

There are so many benefits to mentoring; the list can get long quickly! Here are just a few:

  • Boosts confidence
  • Improves relationship skills
  • Helps determine career goals
  • Teaches students to accept feedback
  • Encourages young people to speak up and be heard
  • Helps increase self-worth

The Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program does all of the above and more every single day. We are proud to have a 100% graduation rate among students who have attended our free after school program since 2007. Mentoring and providing strong leadership are some of the keys to our success.

Our Founder and CEO Khali Sweeney joined panelists from Rock Ventures LLC/Quicken Loans, University of Michigan-Dearborn College of Business, ACCESS, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit, Shinola and more to discuss the subject of mentoring on DPTV’s American Black Journal. Several of our students also spoke on-camera to share their insights. Kenedi explained why our rule is “books before boxing” and why students hit the books first each and every day.

“Education is the key to everything,” she said. “You can’t have fun before you do your homework. The fun is not going to help you do [anything], but the homework will.”

Tune in to Detroit Public Television (Channel 56) Sunday, February 5 at 9:30am to see our amazing students in action and watch the full program.

Updates from the Gym: August 2016

Books Before Boxing

Did you know 100 percent of our students graduate from DBG youth program? Now that’s a point of pride. We do all we can to encourage and prepare students for their future. One of our 2016 graduating seniors, Christal Berry first stopped by to visit us in 2011 with her mother. She enrolled and stuck with the program all the way through graduation this spring. Christal is headed to college at Central State University before transferring to Alabama State University. She’ll study social work and sports management. Before she left, Christal shared a piece of advice to students in our program: “It was a very special experience. Take advantage of every opportunity they have. When you get off track, someone will be there to keep you focused.” Best of luck to you, Christal!

In the Gym

Downtown Boxing Gym's Coach Tamika

Downtown Boxing Gym’s Coach Tamika

Meet Coach Tamika Hogan

When Coach Tamika Hogan learned more about Founder and Program Director Khali Sweeney’s mission and plans here at DBG, she couldn’t help but get involved. “I really appreciate what he does, not only to help my children, but all students” she said.

“It’s more than just boxing. When I saw he needed help, I jumped right in.” Coach Tamika is celebrating 3 years with us. She is a coach, parent and president of the DBG Booster Club. We often see Coach Tamika wrapping the hands of competitors or fundraising to make sure as many students as possible can travel to tournaments. To join her in the booster club, send an email to


Meet Janelson Figueroa

Meet Janelson Figueroa, 17. This DBG champion won his first professional boxing match at The Bomb Factory June 29 in Dallas, Texas against veteran competitor Anthony Hill. Judges scored their four rounds in the ring 40-36. Janelson has trained with Founder and Program Director Khali Sweeney and with his father and Coach Nelly Figueroa. “We’re so proud to see any of our students succeed, whether it is academically or in the ring,” said Sweeney. “But the news of Janelson winning his first pro match was particularly exciting. We know this sport is something he loves and are here with him as he continues to grow and progress.”


Sponsor Highlight

Play It Foreward Charity Golf Outing

Play It Foreward Charity Golf Outing

Raising more than $135,000 in total this year at Play it Foreward, the event drew a crowd of 275 golfers and 62 volunteers for its charitable endeavors.

On July 11, we were proud to be among the beneficiaries of the annual Play it Foreward Golf Outing, an event with a 17-year history coordinated by Sachse Construction. Owner Todd Sachse has been a board member since 2013 and we appreciate his support – and skills on the links.

“The DBG is so much more than boxing,” he said. “It is a valuable community resource that transforms the lives of students in some of Detroit’s toughest neighborhoods. Because I have been so close to the program and seen the difference it makes, I am dedicated to building its sustainability and creating greater awareness. I want to see each of the 600 kids currently on the waiting list have the opportunity to experience the program, but to make that happen we need broader support and financial investment from the community.


In the Community

The Rachael Ray Show

In case you missed it, Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program was featured July 20th on The Rachael Ray Show for a second time as our Founder and Program Director Khali Sweeney and Executive Director Jessica Hauser flew to New York to appear on the show. We can’t thank The Rite Aid Foundation’s KidCents program enough for the generous donations announced on the show. KidCents is providing $25,000 to the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program to support our academic program and operations. In addition, The Rite Aid Foundation has provided $5,000 worth of school, office, first aid and cleaning supplies to us! Learn more at

Volunteer Day

More than 100 volunteers joined us at the gym for our first Downtown Boxing Gym Volunteer Day extravaganza. We could not have achieved the results we saw – and in a flash – without help from our friends at PwC, Quicken Loans, Hard Rock Café, Detroit Diesel and more. From new flowers around the building to a shine on our floor and books filling our library – we’re ready to show you what Books before Boxing means in any season. Want to volunteer with us? Learn more here.