We are incredibly proud and honored to be featured on CNN Heroes. Please watch the story posted on the CNN Heroes page and donate at the bottom of the page to help us give more students a fighting chance at a winning future! Growing up in Detroit without positive role models or an adequate education, [our Founder and CEO] Khali Sweeney fought to turn the negative spiral of his life around. Once he finally did, he knew he had to help kids growing up in the same circumstances.
From Crain’s Detroit Business, June 1, 2017: The nonprofit Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program, founded by Coach Khali Sweeney, is lifting up kids who are underserved by Detroit’s poor education system with a safe, clean, well-lit facility that puts learning above punching.
Airbnb will double its investment in Detroit to $20M through its launch of “Trips,” marketing experiences like sparring at the Detroit Boxing Gym! Read more from Crain’s
American Doers, a 12-part video series featuring original thinkers, innovators, craftspeople, risk-takers and artisans across the United States dedicated ‘Episode 6’ to the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program. The video was distributed online via People.com and sponsored by Advil. Click on the links below to watch the coverage and hear from our Founder and CEO Khali Sweeney and Executive Director Jessica Hauser.
Click here to watch -> American Doers Pt. 1
Click here to watch -> American Doers Pt. 2
Click here to watch -> American Doers Pt. 3
Nonprofit to use $20,000 grant to bring in Grand Circus Detroit for afterschool program
By Sherri Welch, Crain’s Detroit Business
You can’t start kids too early when it comes to writing code.
The Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program is launching an afterschool computer coding program for students in seventh through 12th grades with a $20,000 grant from the Detroit Auto Dealers Association Charitable Foundation Fund, one of the benefiting charities of the North American International Auto Show Charity Preview.
Rachael Ray Checks In With the Founders and Kids of the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program in Detroit
July 20, 2016
Rachael Ray checks in with the founders and kids of the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program in Detroit Michigan to see how they’re doing after their big upgrade!
By Edward Pevos, MLive
July 20, 2016
DETROIT, MI – Rachael Ray has done it again. The talk show host has surprised Detroit’s Downtown Boxing Gym for a second time.
The first surprise:
Ray first paid the gym in Detroit a visit around Thanksgiving 2015, bringing along boxing great Evander Holyfield and retired undefeated boxer Laila Ali. You can see pictures of their visit in the photo gallery above.
The three surprised Downtown Boxing Gym coach Khali Sweeney and some of the kids with a renovated lunchroom and kitchen designed by HGTV’s John Gidding, complete with new appliances and furniture. Rachael also gave a cooking lesson in the new space. The gym also received $25,000 from ConAgra Foods.
Gym update on the show:
Rachael invited coach Sweeney and executive director of the gym, Jessica Hauser to join her in the studio on “The Rachael Ray Show,” set to air Wed., July 20, 2016. Some of the students joined via Skype.
Khali and Jessica updated Rachael on how the gym used the $25,000 donation, and one of the students, whose story was featured in November’s show, updated Rachael on her plans to attend college in the fall to study physical therapy and sports medicine.
Rachael has more surprises in store for Khali, Jessica, and the kids, which are being kept a secret until the show airs.
How you can watch:
The show will air in Metro Detroit on Wednesday, July 20, 2016 at 2:00pm on WDIV-TV, Channel 4, 10am on WJRT in Flint, 2pm on WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, Noon on WILX in Lansing, Noon on WGTU in Traverse City and 10am on WBKB in Alpena.
About the gym:
Downtown Boxing Gym is located on Verner and Mt. Elliott. Detroit native Khali Sweeney founded the gym which uses boxing as a tool to get kids on the right track with school. The gym has seen 100% of its participants graduate high school, with 98% going on to college.
May 3, 2016
97.1 The Ticket host Mike Valenti says lives are at risk for Detroit kids whose teachers are on their second consecutive sick out day.
That’s where charities like the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program in Detroit come in.
“The boxing is keeping them off the streets,” Valenti said. The program challenges kids, saying before they put on gloves, they have to hit the books. It picks up kids and drops them off so they don’t have to worry about rides from parents, many of whom don’t have reliable transportation.
“It works, these kids in Detroit are not throwaways, they’re not the crumbs you sweep under the rug,” Valenti said.
There’s a waiting list of 500 or 600 kids trying to get into the program, Valenti said.
“The work we do changes the lives of the kids by offering a safe, cool and productive place to go after school and during the summer,” the program’s website says. “The work we do is about helping kids navigate the challenges they face in Detroit’s toughest neighborhoods. Their successes are our successes and each success creates a ripple effect that crosses boundaries, creating a true citizen of the world.”
LEARN MORE about it here.
Started in 2007, the gym on Detroit’s east side serves as a “safe haven” for kids aged 7 – 18. “Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program helps them learn how to study through tutoring, teaches them discipline through boxing, and instills pride in their community through voluntary service,” the website says.
March 30, 2016
The Pistons and Andre Drummond teamed up with the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program to encourage youth reading for March Is Reading Month presented by Farm Bureau Insurance Michigan.
By R.J. King, dBusiness
February 22, 2016
Southfield-based Beyond Basics, which operates a certified nonprofit literacy program in Detroit Public Schools, and the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program in Detroit, are working together to boost reading, writing, and word comprehension skills for students as part of an after school tutoring program.
Founded in 2007, the nonprofit Downtown Boxing Gym, located on Detroit’s east side, today works with more than 100 students. Once the students, aged 7 to 18, finish their homework, they are taught discipline via boxing as well as the benefits of providing voluntary community service.
“We did an initial assessment (late last year) of our middle and high school students, and we found 20 percent were reading at their grade level,” says Sarah Sorenson, academic coordinator at the Downtown Boxing Gym. “To address that, we partnered with Beyond Basics and set up their Read to Rise program here (last week). There are three tutors working with six students, and our goal is to providing tutoring for all of the students.”
The reading program, where students work with a certified tutor one on one for an hour each school day, has a more than 90 percent success rate. In many cases, students are reading at their grade level, or a higher grade, within six weeks.
“We’re thrilled to be working with the Downtown Boxing Gym, which is a new initiative for us to work outside of the five schools we work with in Detroit, and one in Pontiac,” says Pam Good, executive director of Beyond Basics. “If students can’t read, we are setting them up for failure because it will be difficult for them to learn math, the sciences, or other learning disciplines.”
Sorenson says once the students (elementary students will be assessed in the coming weeks) have mastered reading and writing, they will receive additional training in math and the sciences. “Our goal is to help our students become productive members of society and give back to the communities in which they live and work,” she says.
Founded in 2002, Beyond Basics provides reading, tutoring, and literacy support programs — writing, art, mentoring, and partnerships — for students in grades Pre-K through the 12th grade during the school day.
The cost of Beyond Basics literacy program ranges from $365 for a student that is close to reading at their grade level (4 weeks of training), to $2,000 or more for a student who is several years behind in reading and writing (14 weeks). Good says around 10 percent of students in Detroit public schools are reading at their grade level.
Currently, Beyond Basics serves students in the following schools in Detroit — Burton International Academy, Central Collegiate Academy, Sampson Webber Leadership Academy, Thirkell Elementary School, and University Yes Academy — as well as Whitmer Human Resources Center in Pontiac (along with the Pontiac Dream Center).
In recent weeks, Beyond Basics has added two board members, Jack Aronson, president of Clean Planet Proteins and Great Fresh Foods, both in Clinton Township, and Emily Ford, a former schoolteacher.
On March 18, Beyond Basics will host its annual fundraiser dinner, called Come Together For Children, at the Detroit Golf Club. The evening will include a silent and a live auction, a sit-down dinner, and live entertainment. To purchase tickets or to learn more about Beyond Basics, visit beyondbasics.org/events/.
By: Nicole Ndwaniye, The Mirror News, Henry Ford Community College
February 1, 2016
In a city fighting for renewal, Detroit-native, Coach Khali Sweeney, is providing kids with a safe haven at the Downtown Boxing Gym (DBG). This non-profit organization helps its students start to develop strong values and discipline by combining a demanding boxing program with strong academic support and a connection to the community through voluntary service. By focusing on body, mind, and community, DBG helps these young people develop the skills they need to be successful in boxing, school, and life.
Detroit’s Downtown Boxing Gym offers free academic tutoring, mentoring, and boxing instruction to about 100 boys and girls between the ages of seven and 18. The program, whose motto is “books before boxing,” is heavily dependent on generosity and donations — and the waiting list currently exceeds 500 students. The group’s benefactors are often happy to help in any way that they can. Forgotten Harvest provides healthy meals every day and Door-to-Door Organics supplies fruit for the kids to eat.
“The Rachael Ray Show” even paid a visit to Detroit and surprised DBG with some big gifts as part of an entire episode shot at the gym back in November. Rachael Ray brought along boxing living legend Evander Holyfield and retired undefeated boxer Laila Ali to surprise Coach Sweeney and the kids. Ray also treated the kids and their families to a full Thanksgiving meal and presented a $25,000 donation from Conagra Foods to the gym’s founder. Rachel Ray is not DBG’s only celebrity fan. Madonna posted a pair of pictures of her visit to the gym on her Instagram page when the superstar and Michigan native made a special stop during her Rebel Heart Tour just the month before. “Downtown Youth Boxing Gym is the place to be!!” she wrote underneath one of the pictures, which showed her interacting with one of the program’s students.
While Coach Khali’s gym does have a competitive team of 12 to 16 kids that head into amateur fights and has produced nationally ranking Levan Johnson and pro fighter Anthony Flagg Jr., the goal isn’t to prepare its participants for the ring but for life. Despite all the program has to offer, some of the youths just want to learn how to land a punch — and end up getting more than they bargained for. Sarah Sorensen, the program’s academic coordinator, told us, “Sometimes they come in and they just really don’t want anyone to beat them up anymore. Kids who are bullied build a little bit of self-esteem here. They learn to carry themselves in a different way. They find community and kinship with the people here, and it changes their perspective about their world.”
The sport’s toughness also works another wonder for the kids: it provides them with an after-school program that is socially acceptable to even their toughest peers. Sweeney says in the program’s promotional video, “It’s easier to say to your friends that you are going to the boxing gym than to say you’re going to an after-school program. To go to an after-school program, you will hear a thousand negatives why you shouldn’t go. But for a boxing program, they might come along with you. Seeing a boxing program is really cool and, before you know it, you’ll have half of your neighborhood over here trying to learn to box.”
by Edward Pevos, MLive
DETROIT, MI – “The Rachael Ray Show” paid a visit to Detroit and surprisedDowntown Boxing Gym with some big gifts as part of an entire episode shot at the gym.
Rachael Ray brought along boxing living legend Evander Holyfield and retired undefeated boxer Laila Ali to surprise Downtown Boxing Gym coach Khali Sweeney and some of the kids.
Celebrity chef and television personality Rachael Ray whipped up a hearty serving of generosity on Sunday for a group of Detroit youngsters and their after-school program and boxing gym.
The charismatic show host made an afternoon visit to Detroit’s Downtown Boxing Gym at the corner of East Vernor and Beaufait, meeting the program’s 100 youth boxers and their coach, gym founder Khali Sweeney. Ray unveiled a stylish new kitchen and study area for the gym with top-shelf appliances that would ordinarily cost upwards of $50,000, but was donated by the show for free with help from Lowe’s Home Improvement and LG Appliances. (more…)
by Brandy Baker/The Detroit News
When celebrity cook Rachael Ray comes to town, she certainly packs a punch … or two.
The effervescent TV host, who gained famed with Food Network’s “30 Minute Meals” and made “EVOO” part of the lexicon, brought her syndicated talk show to Detroit’s Downtown Boxing Gym this week where she surprised participants in the Youth Program with a newly-renovated kitchen, visits from champions Evander Holyfield and Laila Ali and a check for $25,000 to help support the program that uses boxing as a tool to help kids excel academically and build confidence and character.
From the Detroit News: Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program welcomed Rachael Ray and her TV show crew into the new facility on E. Vernor Hwy. The celebrity chef and host facilitated a new kitchen remodel and donation to the organization.
Ms. Ray said she wanted to make sure to bring national attention to the organization so that others may be inspired.
DETROIT—Khali Sweeney can still feel the shame. Thirty years later, there is no forgetting his worst public school memories—those days when a textbook passed slowly from student to student, finally reaching Sweeney, and a teacher would ask him to read aloud. A cold knot clenched at the teenager’s stomach. Shame.
And rage: “I’d start a fight,” Sweeney, now 46, tells me. “Every time that book got to me, I’d drop it and started a fight with the closest guy next to me. Anything to avoid admitting that I was a young man getting passed from grade to grade, totally illiterate.” (Read the story at National Journal).
In our own words and pictures, Katie Couric, Gabriel Noble and TruFilms captured the essence of what we do at Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program every day.
Models Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss may have helped the sport of boxing gain popularity thanks to their sexy,glove-wearing Instagrams, and now that the queen of pop herself has taken note, we’re officially on board.
Madonna stopped by her hometown of Detroit for another mark on her Rebel Heart world tour and showed that a jam-packed performance schedule doesn’t mean she’s too exhausted to give back to the community.
She took to Instagram yesterday to share equally endearing and fiery shots of herself hitting the punching bags inside theDowntown Boxing Gym Youth Program facility in Detroit. “Downtown Youth Boxing Gym is the place to be! Was so inspired by Cortez, a young and talented Boxer hoping to go to the Olympics!” she captioned the below shot—which makes clear that even a workout can’t stop her from sporting a glam, pop star-approved bomber jacket. (more…)
Madonna hasn’t forgotten her roots!
The superstar and Michigan native made a special stop during her Rebel Heart Tour at the Downtown Youth Boxing Gym in Detroit. The facility — which “provides free after-school boxing and educational mentoring” to kids in the community, according to Madonna’s site — received funds from the singer to build a new gym. (more…)
Paula Tutman: Start with this program to begin with — it is a big deal. Then when you get a superstar like Madonna involved, the deal gets even bigger, because now she’s talking about it, she’s tweeting about it, and apparently, she really cares about it.
PT: Eighteen-year-old Cortez has a dream: To be a champion. His father is his coach at the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program, but notice when you look at that logo, you don’t see a glove. You see a book. Boxing here has become the ‘hook’ to get kids to expand their lives. (more…)
By Adam Theisen on Tue, Aug 25, 2015
Just after opening up their new home, the Downtown Boxing Gym in Detroit has announced that the Marshall Mathers Foundation will offer a matching gift to its online fundraiser and contribute special prizes for those who donate, raising both money and awareness for the community center and program for Detroit youth.
Eminem is offering 10 of his sold-out signed boxing gloves from Title that tie-in with the recent Jake Gyllenhaal-starring film Southpaw, whose soundtrack Eminem executive produced. A $10 donation that benefits the Boxing Gym’s after-school program enters you into the fundraiser, with one grand prize winner also getting a handwritten letter from Shady himself.
The Downtown Boxing Gym, for those who don’t know, combines its boxing program with academics and community service to help Detroit Youth graduate high school, go to college, and connect with the community. The gym just moved out of its 4,000 square foot gym and into a newly renovated 27,000 square foot complex. Though the new facilities are impressive, there’s always more that can be done to help out. The gym’s campaign goal is to bring in enough funds to support adding 15 new students to its program, but there are currently over 500 on the waiting list.
Donate to the fundraiser before August 31 to ensure that your funds are matched. The link to do so is right here.
Adam Graham, The Detroit News 8:07 p.m. EDT August 25, 2015
Rapper’s fundraising initiative for the youth tutoring program runs through Aug. 31
Detroit’s Downtown Boxing Gym is getting a helping hand from Eminem.
Through his record label Shady Records and his Marshall Mathers Foundation, the rapper is currently soliciting donations from fans to benefit the after-school youth tutoring program, which helps kids age 7-18 with academics and athletic training. Em’s goal is to raise enough money to enroll 15 additional students in the program, which has a waiting list of more than 500 hopefuls.
“We’d like to raise enough to let in 150 kids,” says Jessica Hauser, Downtown Boxing Gym’s executive director of fundraising. “It’s heartbreaking to have to turn kids away. We tell people about the waiting list, and they say, ‘Oh wow, that’s great!’ No it’s not great, it’s heartbreaking.” (more…)
From WDET’s website:
- More than boxing: Sweeny says that the gym provides many services outside of boxing, including tutoring, mentorship, and classical music lessons. Dorian says he goes to the gym most days after school, and likes the tutoring and mentoring as well as boxing.
- Community is coming together: Sweeny says that there has been a whirlwind of people coming together, and that the community has stepped in to make the gym and its programs successful. He says many local celebrities have supported the gym as well.
- New improvements: The gym recently moved into a larger facility. Sweeny says that this will help them get some kids off of the waiting list and have a permanent home for their community services. Dorian says that the new facility is better because it is less cluttered, and there is an indoor track so he can run inside in the winter.
- Eminem raffle: The guests say that people can get involved in supporting the gym by entering their raffle to win a hand-written letter or signed boxing glove from Eminem.
WXYZ’s Kristin Pierce reports on the Youth Program expansion and mission. See the full story on WXYZ.
After operating out of a former car wash for eight years, the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program finally has a new home.
On Wednesday, the Detroit nonprofit relocated to a 27,500-square-foot building on East Vernor Highway which houses two boxing rings, a training facility, computer lab, study rooms, and executive offices.
The program, which couples boxing with academic support and community volunteerism, received support from the Kresge Foundation and the Ray of Light Foundation, and as well as ROSSETTI and Sachse Construction, to make the move and expansion possible.
“It is through the generosity of these foundations and companies that have helped realize our dream,” said Jessica Hauser, executive director. “And the belief from everyone who knows us that our kids deserve a chance at a winning future.” (more…)
By Local 4 – ClickOnDetroit news staff
August 19, 2015
DETROIT – The Downtown Boxing Gym youth program is relocating and expanding Wednesday, as staff, supporters and Detroit dignitaries will be on hand to cut the ceremonial ribbon in the 27,500 square foot former bookbinding building.
The building now holds two boxing rings, a training facility, computer lab, study rooms and executive offices.
“It is through the generosity of these foundations and companies that have helped realize our dream,” said Jessica Hauser, executive director. “And the belief from everyone who knows us that our kids deserve a chance at a winning future.”
Founder and Program Director Carlo Sweeney started the organization in 2007 as a way to keep his own kids safe from the rough streets of Detroit. All of the students who have finished the program have graduated high school.
Until this year, the program only had the capacity to serve 65 students from ages 7-18. With the new building, DBG can expand the program to include up to 150 students by 2017.
“It’s been a labor of love,” Sweeney said. “We started out in a former car wash, and as we’ve stood strong in the storms, the move to a new building is a significant step in making sure our kids get the education they deserve.”
DBG Board Chair Matt Roling said the grand opening is a “culmination of drive, heart, and passion to make education and fitness accessible to everyone.”
A sunrise flash mob fitness event Friday in Plymouth’s Kellogg Park capped a fundraiser by Gale, a publisher of resource materials for libraries and businesses that sent $20,000 to the Detroit-based Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program.
Hundreds of people, including Gale employees and representatives from the Downtown Boxing Gym, gathered at the park at 6:30 a.m. for Zumba, a dance-based exercise routine, led by an instructor from the Z Spot Fitness Studio in Plymouth Township.
A converted book bindery on the east side of Detroit is unusually active on this late Wednesday afternoon, as scores of cars parked up on the side street outside attest. Inside, under the sawtooth roof of the former industrial building, dozens of young people are gathered around two boxing rings, where fighters are being coached in the sweet science. In a regulation-size ring, two teenagers land blows that echo off the gymnasium-hard walls, while several younger siblings of the youths in the program run around, adding to the din. Over in the corner, a dozen young people are participating in a yoga class , and nearby a video crew is shooting it all for a show hosted by Katie Couric.
My Fox Detroit’s Woody Woodriffe visited Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program to preview the Junior Olympics and talked to some key students in the program.
DETROIT, MI — A small youth boxing gym that has been gathering attention, praise and donations for years is about to make a major move into a massive east-side building that will allow the after-school program mixing pugilism and academics to expand.
The Downtown Boxing Gym purchased a former book bindery on East Vernor Highway last year with help from Madonna and an anonymous contributor, and with about $2 million in ongoing renovations funded by other supporters, the new site could become a state-of-the-art boxing facility.
Only 65 youths are currently enrolled in the program, learning to box and getting attention from tutors and mentors after school at the original gym on St. Aubin Street.
Another 500 are on a waiting list.
“We’re very lucky to be going from a 4,000 square feet to a 27,500 square feet,” said Downtown Boxing Gym Development Director Carolyn Geck.
The new gym will host the ROSSETTI 2015 USA Boxing Junior Olympics Tournament on Saturday and Sunday, and the youth of the Downtown Boxing Gym will start training and studying at the new gym by the end of May. (more…)
The Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program, offering athletic training, academic support, and volunteering opportunities for youths in Detroit, will reopen in a new location on the city’s east side near Vernor and Mount Elliott on April 18.
Rossetti, a Detroit-based architectural firm, designed the 30,000 square feet space in what was once a book binding plant.
The new space will be able to accommodate up to 300 in the former gym that was housed in an auto body shop and was too small to accommodate the growing number of participants.
“We took advantage of the grit and industrial history of the building and we parlayed that into a space that kids would relate to and would be beneficial for them,” says Alice Engel, Rossetti’s interior designer for the project. (more…)
For the last nine years, Carlo Sweeney has spent three hours every weekday picking up and dropping off 40 kids who attend his after-school boxing program in Detroit.
That’s all about to change with a local foundation’s support.
The Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program, founded by Sweeney in 2005, is a nonprofit organization focused on youth development. Children aged 7-18 attend the after-school program not only to learn boxing techniques, but to receive academic support and mentorship. Each day, the kids spend time with a tutor before being allowed to hit the gym.
Sweeney, who is known around the gym as Coach Khali, self-funded the gym at 4760 St. Aubin St. for four years, according to Executive Director Jessica Hauser. There are 65 kids enrolled in the program, many of them without reliable and safe transportation to and from the program. To keep his kids in the gym, Sweeney began shouldering the transportation and cost himself.
Host Lisa Germani interviews coach Khali as part of the “Inspiring Our Youth” episode on March 1, 2015: (more…)
In a city fighting for renewal, Detroit-native Coach Khali Sweeney is providing kids with a safe haven, at the Downtown Boxing Gym (DBG). This non-profit organization helps its students start to develop strong values and discipline by combining a demanding boxing program with strong academic support and a connection to the community through voluntary service. By focusing on body, mind, and community, DBG helps these young people develop the skills they need to be successful in boxing, school, and life.
Downtown Boxing Gym in Detroit; Using donated Zipcars to pick up the kids; The group in the gym; Chelsea Clinton gets a lesson; Studying, tutoring and homework are part of the program; High-fives for work well done. Images from NBC Nightly News.Downtown Boxing Gym in Detroit; Using donated Zipcars to pick up the kids; The group in the gym; Chelsea Clinton gets a lesson; Studying, tutoring and homework are part of the program; High-fives for work well done. Images from NBC Nightly News.
When we launched Zipcars in Detroit, Market Manager, Monica Wejman didn’t quite know what the impact would be in the Motor City. One thing she didn’t see coming was a boxing gym whose volunteer coaches use Zipcars to pick up kids and bring them to this athletic training program. (What better way to make sure the kids show up than to drive right to them?) “We’ve been struck by the passion and hope that the Detroit Boxing Gym brings to not just the kids that attend the programs, but also to the community as a whole.”
Chelsea Clinton and NBC Nightly News travelled to Detroit in 2014 to help spread the word about this inspiring program. We were lucky enough to go along for the ride. Watch it here.
NBCNews.com – Making a Difference
October 22, 2014
On the bleak east side of Detroit, a boxing coach is making sure kids have a fighting chance at success in a city plagued by hardship.
At the Downtown Youth Boxing Gym, run by Coach Khali Sweeney, children get nutritious food, warm coats donated by local businesses, and lessons inside the ring. The only rule: The kids must finish their homework before they throw any punches at the gym.
“I can’t sugarcoat it. The city is a rough place,” Sweeney said. “I’m encouraging them to make healthy choices, healthy decisions, eat right, live right, respect yourself, and do overall good. I mean, you know, educate yourself.”
His encouragement is paying off. Sweeney said he had some “Z-students” who are now getting As and Bs in school. The high school graduation rate among kids enrolled at the gym is 100 percent, compared to 65 percent citywide.
But that success came at a cost: When NBC Nightly News first reported on the Downtown Youth Boxing Gym in March 2013, the gym was in danger of having its lights shut off, and Sweeney was juggling several jobs to keep afloat. He even lived in the gym at one point because he had run out of money. Now, thanks to donations, the gym is getting ready to move into a new building. GM has donated vans to safely transport kids to and from the program. And there’s enough money for desks and computers, and for Sweeney to pay himself a modest salary so he doesn’t have to moonlight on the side. Teachers chip in by tutoring after school.
“Since the first interview and a couple other interviews, we pulled together some support in the community and the business community stepped up in a big way, in a major way,” Sweeney said. “We’ve been able to keep the lights and gas bill paid on time.”
Still, many of Detroit’s kids are out on the streets and unable to get into the free boxing program: There are more than 420 kids on the waiting list.
“That’s one of the things I don’t like to talk about,” Sweeney said. “It’s 400 kids who want to be somewhere.”
Kids practice their punches at the Downtown Youth Boxing Gym
Sweeney hopes to expand to a bigger facility so he can steer more of Detroit’s youth away from trouble. In addition to their schoolwork, Sweeney makes sure all of the kids participate in community service as a way of giving back to the neighborhood.
“With this culture that we have, a lot of these kids will end up in prison,” he said. “A lot of these kids will end up in a graveyard. So you need some positive influences to steer them away from certain things.”
Since we first aired our report about Detroit’s Downtown Youth Boxing Gym in 2013, we’ve heard from many of you asking how you can help support Coach Khali Sweeney and his kids. If you’d like to follow up, you can click Donate with Amazon here.
Each night this week, NBC’s Nightly News will catch up with the subjects of some of its most popular stories in the “Making a Difference” series, which launched in 2005.
—Rehema Ellis, Mary Murray, Michelle Melnick and Elizabeth Chuck
Avalon’s 3 Bottom Lines- Earth, Community, Employees- are both our path and our destination. Sometimes, in the pressure to solve problems and create a healthy business, it is easy to forget the impact that we have had throughout the years on the community around us. One of my Detroit heros, Detroit Boxing Gym Director Jesica Hauser, recently reminded me of one such success story. I hope that you will join us in supporting Detroit Boxing Gyms great work and take pride in something that, as an Avalon customer, who have helped to succeed as well.
We’ve come a long way since 2006 when founder Coach Khali opened the doors on St. Aubin Street. He started the gym in his childhood community as a safe haven for kids to come after school, using his life savings to convert a former car wash into a training facility. When the gym started growing with the neighborhood kids stopping by on a regular basis for training and homework help, we soon had a team that quickly developed a formidable reputation as winners. At that time, the team was sharing uniforms – until Avalon Breads stepped into the ring to help.
One of the first Detroit companies to sponsor a tiny little gym with big ideas, Avalon gave us great hope that we had a future in helping Detroit kids. Jackie and Ann bought us uniforms so the kids could have their own at tournaments. Lesley helped us bake shortcakes to sell as a fundraiser. They hired one of our champions to work in the bakery, giving him his first taste of work experience. And we couldn’t be more grateful.
AJ grew up in Downtown Boxing Gym. He came to us as a shy, 8-year-old boy, who wanted something to do after school. Khali took him in, mentored and coached him, made sure he had academic tutoring after school, and helped him discover his own dream of becoming an attorney. AJ became a champion. He won national titles, he holds the Olympic record for the most jabs set in the trials. He is now in college, studying pre-law, and he returns to the gym not only for training, but also to be a mentor to the younger students who are actively involved in the Youth Program. He was the student Avalon hired – the exception to their rule – and gave him valuable work experience. He still wears their uniform when he competes.
Today, we consider ourselves very lucky. We gained nonprofit status in 2011 and have since developed an organization with a vibrant and active board. We’ve had national exposure about our program – from NBC Nightly News and Chelsea Clinton, to Madonna’s Ray of Light Foundation giving us money towards a new facility. Other companies and organizations are finding ways to support Downtown Boxing Gym, and we appreciate every bit of help we can get to make sure our kids graduate high school. Avalon Bakery holds a special place in our hearts because they gave us the hope that we could be something more and that our kids were worth the investment. Like the first dollar a business receives the day they open, our relationship with Avalon symbolizes that dedication, hard work, and perseverance can open more doors to success. We appreciate that the owners of Avalon still live their own mission of Eat Well. Do Good.
Downtown Boxing Gym is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that develops good citizenship in urban youth through a demanding boxing program in addition to strong academic support and a connection to the community through voluntary service. To date, 100% of our participating students have graduated high school, and 94% of them are in college. For more information about Downtown Boxing Gym’s Youth Program, visit www.downtownyouthboxing.org, like us on Facebook or Twitter
The Detroit nonprofit and its founder provide kids from all over the metro Detroit area a place to learn boxing and work toward a safe, successful future
By: Megan Krueger, B.L.A.C. Detroit
At about 3 p.m. on a bitter cold February day in Detroit, Carlo “Coach Khali” Sweeney, founder of the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program, is picking up a few of the gym’s students from school as a last-minute request—although his boxing program doesn’t start until 4 p.m.
“I get kids who call me and I get parents who call me all the time, ‘Hey, could you pick my kid up early from school?'” Coach Khali says. “I’m on call 24 hours like a doctor.”
Coach Khali, which is what he prefers to be called, has that strong of a relationship with the 65 students he teaches who come from all over Detroit and the metro area. Open for eight years now, Coach Khali’s nonprofit gives kids 7-18 years old a place to learn boxing, but also to focus on their studies and have mentors.
“Right now, for them, it’s hard,” Coach Khali says of the kids. “So we’ve got to give them a safe place to go and the gym is a safe place to go. It’s a family atmosphere here.”
Coach Khali, a native Detroiter, grew up in a rough neighborhood. He was introduced to boxing as a way to stay out of trouble and had dreams of opening a gym himself someday.
“The youth right now, they need our support more than ever,” he says. “It’s very violent for the young kids out here—gangs and a lot of trouble.”
The gym is about much more than boxing. In fact, Coach Khali doesn’t think boxing is the most important part of what his gym offers.
“I don’t care if one of these kids never throws a punch, wins a tournament —any of that,” he notes. Although some of the gym’s students have gone on to be champions in the sport, Coach Khali takes more pride in the fact that 100 percent of the students who have come through the gym in eight years have graduated from high school. Even more, 96 percent of those kids have gone to college while the other 4 percent are either employed full time or attended trade school.
“If you want to stop any type of problems that we have in the community, first you have to educate the community,” he says.
At the gym, Coach Khali explains “it’s always books before boxing.” They have a room with computers where kids can come to do homework and study, and tutors from Teach For America come to help out. Forgotten Harvest provides the kids with food, which Coach Khali notes is “instrumental.” The kids at the gym also are required to do community service, such as cleaning up neighborhoods or helping out at Forgotten Harvest.
Because of his own background growing up in a tough area, Coach Khali says he feels connected to the kids who struggle through similar situations.
“I’ve been in a house with no lights and gas. I’ve been in school with bad grades,” he says. “Until somebody identifies those problems, you know, you can just go through life. People will say you’re acting up, but you’re not acting up, you’re acting out, you want attention. Somebody needs to pay attention, so they know what’s going on with you in your life.”
And that’s what Coach Khali and those who volunteer their time at the gym do for their students.
“I want to see kids go across that stage with that cap and gown—I want to keep seeing that happen. You know, every day I look forward to seeing these kids the next day,” Coach Khali says. “I just want to see ’em and make sure they’re breathing and they’re alive.”
On a cold December day in East Detroit, a dozen kids form a human assembly line stretching across the parking lot of the Downtown Boxing Gym. With strong arms, the kids grab and push boxes of food from the delivery truck. “The kids don’t go without a meal,” Coach Khali Sweeney told NBC News. “Forgotten Harvest, the local food bank, they’ll bring food here for ’em, so we have food for the kids to eat healthy.”
Chelsea Clinton visited Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program for NBC Nightly News.
Khali Sweeney, a boxing trainer on Detroit’s east side, paced the cement floor and stared at the clock. It was 4 p.m. and just a handful of his 65 students had shown up for class. “They’ll be here,” he promised. But, over the next 30 minutes just one other kid walked through the door of theDowntown Boxing Gym.
We were there to shoot a story for ‘Nightly News with Brian Williams’ but, as the afternoon was slipping away, so too was our natural light. We were getting nervous…
THE GOOD FIGHT: Downtown Boxing Gym’s program offers serious training — and attitude adjustments
By Monica Mercer, Hour Detroit
Published: February 15, 2013
Overusing an old cliché can really tick Coach Khali off — even if it’s somewhat accurate. MTV was one national media outlet that perpetuated a certain Detroit cliché perfectly, the boxing coach says, albeit with good intentions. Producers came to the city to film “I’m a Boxer in Detroit” for the channel’s True Life series. It was about two kids growing up poor, getting exposed to drugs and gangs, and getting a chance to overcome it all with boxing.
Is boxing really that powerful in Detroit? Its rich history looms large. Joe Louis’ monolithic fist on Jefferson Ave., after all, would come to symbolize not just the sport itself, but a city capable of sustaining the larger “fight” — whatever that may be at the time.
Still, boxing in Detroit has seen better days. With the death of Emanuel Steward last year, the fate of the famous Kronk gym again fell into question. Many other gyms have closed. Mixed Martial Arts has whittled away at boxing’s fan base.
“With MMA, you see blood and guts,” Khali says. “People getting knocked around. Boxing is like a sweet science. Two guys using skill. That’s just not as exciting as MMA.”
Khali, a Detroit native whose given name is Carlo Sweeney, has a profound respect for the “sweet science.” He teaches it every day — free of charge — at his Downtown Boxing Gym, famous in the tight-knit boxing world for its unique youth program and champion fighters. Gyms from New York to Mallorca, Spain, have aspired to re-create its dynamic.
But in Detroit, it’s remained relatively unknown.
Which is to say, don’t make the mistake of thinking that Khali is in the boxing business. He’s not getting rich. He’s not grooming professional athletes. At one point, he couldn’t even keep the lights on at the gym on a desolate part of Saint Aubin Street on Detroit’s east side. Here, Khali says, boxing is just the “hook.” It can bring a kid to the table. But it can’t save the kid if he doesn’t know he has choices.
“We need to be a good example of a way out,” says Khali, who grew up in a now-abandoned east-side neighborhood. He thought he’d become a “gangster.” At one time, he was. He doesn’t remember going to high school because he was always getting kicked out — a “pipeline to prison,” Khali recalls of the experience. The last thing misguided kids need, Khali says, is an adult who’d rather not deal with their problems.
“I’m cool with these kids learning how to box,” Khali says. “Boxing is a good thing. But education, positive role models, and having a safe place to go where you’re not scared that someone’s gonna sell you drugs is way more important. You know why kids join gangs? Because they’ve got reading problems. They’d rather look cool than stupid.”
On a cold January afternoon, Khali sits in the gym’s study room. The rest of the building (Khali thinks it used to be a car wash) is dark and dingy. This small space with a few computers, however, is almost blindingly bright in its fluorescent haze. Portraits of the gym’s 12-member competitive team decorate a bright orange wall, an homage to the hard work that sent one boxer, Anthony Flagg, 18, currently the No. 2-ranked amateur boxer in his weight and class in the world, to the 2012 Olympic tryouts. Another boxer, Cortez Todd, 15, is ranked No. 1 in his weight and class.
In this respect, Flagg and Cortez aren’t representative of most of the other 65 students who go to the gym every day to train. Those students will never be good enough to win an amateur fight. They’ll certainly never go pro. All of them, including Flagg, are dealing with the issues that continue to define Detroit’s most dangerous areas.
“My best friend is a drug dealer,” Flagg says.
But where most gyms would have turned these kids away, it’s been Downtown Boxing Gym’s philosophy to embrace them. The program includes not only serious training for everyone, but mandatory academics and old-fashioned attitude adjustments. It’s an approach that’s led to a 100 percent high-school graduation rate since the gym opened seven years ago. City-wide, the rate is about 32 percent.
“Some 16-year-old can come in here thinkin’ he’s real tough. He be thinkin’ he’s the man. Well, I’ll put him in the ring and show him he’s not,” says Kevin White, a trainer at the gym. “Everyone here, they’re gonna meet their match one day, so we gotta deal with those attitudes. We’ll put you in the ring to see who you really are. At the same time, we’ll get up in your head and teach you how to be a grown-up.”
That includes breaking down the gang culture, which has held an equal aura of power in Detroit. “The (gang) era is gone,” Khali says. “It’s all make-believe. It’s all crap. We’re breaking the cycle.”
Downtown Boxing Gym is just now starting to feel the results of that effort. Word is spreading that this isn’t just about boxing, and there’s a waiting list of more than 60 kids. For years, Khali operated without a formal financial plan and struggled to stay afloat. Then, in 2010, the gym’s development director, Jessica Hauser, helped turn it into a nonprofit organization when she realized it might not survive.
At the time, Khali was paying for everything out of his own pocket. He reluctantly started to ask for contributions of $30 a month. Most families didn’t have the funds. Many didn’t even have the gas money to get their kids there, either, so Khali would diligently pick them up every afternoon after school.
Hauser, who formerly worked in Birmingham’s after-school programs, saw how Khali interacted with the kids. “He had their full trust,” she says. “I said, ‘Oh, my goodness, they need a fighting chance.’ ”
With its nonprofit status comes a bit more legitimacy, and they’re hoping to move into Eastern Market so the gym can accommodate more kids. Their first fundraising dinner last fall netted enough money to keep the lights on, and Hauser is helping connect students who want to go to college with mentors at local universities, taking academic opportunities to a higher level.
The authenticity of Downtown Boxing Gym’s mission, however, remains. As much as Khali winces at his past life, he knows it’s also a great equalizer that makes kids believe he can help. People in city courts have been known to send troubled kids to him. “Kids immediately take to what I say,” he says. “They know that I know what they’ve been through.”
Photographs by Martin Vecchio
This article appears in the March 2013 issue of Hour Detroit