Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation Pledges $500,000 to Support DBG's Future Growth

The two-year grant will help fund an apprenticeship program and provide life-changing academic intervention, mentorship and enrichment to more metro Detroit students with a goal of reaching 250 students by 2020.


Steady growth has been the name of the game for the Downtown Boxing Gym since it opened in 2007 on Detroit’s east side. Each year, an increasing number of students benefit from the free, after-school academic and athletic program’s innovative “books before boxing” approach. Now, thanks to a two-year, $500,000 grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, that growth will continue.

“This support is critical and it will help change lives for generations to come,” said Khali Sweeney, founder and CEO of the Downtown Boxing Gym. “This grant will enable us to create longevity for the program and ensure Detroit students receive the tools and resources to succeed long after any one of us is here. We thank the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation for helping us move our mission forward in such a significant and meaningful way.”

Sweeney, a 2017 Top 10 CNN Hero, started the program 11 years ago to provide the tutoring, mentorship, enrichment and community service opportunities he never received as a child – and to prevent students from going down the wrong path. Since the boxing gym’s inception, 100% of participating students have graduated from high school. The program currently serves 150 boys and girls ages 8-18 who hail from 30 zip codes and 57 schools across metro Detroit. But, there’s an astounding 850-student waiting list to get in.

“The streets have no waiting list. The county jail has no waiting list. The city morgue is open 24/7,” Sweeney says. “We can’t afford to have a waiting list when we’re building our next generation of leaders – our future doctors and lawyers and inventors, politicians, police officers and engineers. That’s why grants like this are so impactful.”

The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. grant, will provide $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. In addition, the gym will develop a robust apprenticeship program so Sweeney can mold and shape the next generation of boxing gym leaders to carry the mission forward. The gym’s long-term goal is to open more facilities in Detroit and around the country.

“Coach Khali and the entire team at the Downtown Boxing Gym have found a way to create an environment that combines all the ingredients needed for children to realize their full potential,” said Jim Boyle, vice president of programs and communications at the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. “In addition to the academic enrichment and opportunities to participate in a variety of sports, the gym is a community that demonstrates to kids they are valued.”

“We work to ensure that our students break the cycle of poverty, unhealthy lifestyles and prison pipelines – and we’re proud of the lasting successes we’ve had,” said Jessica Hauser, Downtown Boxing Gym executive director. “We expect to scale our program in a thoughtful and appropriate way that recognizes the importance of addressing each child’s academic, socio-emotional and physical needs. Our students face positive, productive and bright futures, and thanks to generous support from organizations like the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, our program does, too.”

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