There are some people who come into your life and make an unexpected, indelible and positive impact. Stephen Luigi Piazza was that person for the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program, its students, and its leadership team
SLP was our rock, our mentor, our cheerleader, our outside-the-box thinker, big dreamer and most importantly, our dear friend. He loved our program, our students, and the city of Detroit – and we loved him back. Sadly, SLP passed away Feb. 26 after a long and ferocious battle with cancer.
“We used to talk almost every day, sometimes for five minutes, sometimes an hour,” our executive director Jessica Hauser recalls. “Those conversations were always the highlight of my day because I would hang up inspired, motivated, and with a laundry list of more work to do.”
We first met Stephen, a Quicken Loans mortgage banking executive, several years ago when Jessica and our founder and CEO Khali Sweeney appeared on the Opportunity Detroit Radio show, a show Stephen co-hosted for many years on WJR radio. They instantly clicked and the rest is history.
“Funniest guy ever. He’s the coolest guy, one of our biggest supporters,” Khali recently told Stephen’s Quicken Loans colleagues. Khali visited their offices on Lafayette in Detroit Feb. 20 to thank them for their support and donations during the Quicken Loans Charity Challenge. He and Stephen shared a special friendship and mutual respect. In December 2017, when Khali walked onstage to accept his award as a Top 10 CNN Hero, he wore a pair of Nikes as a tribute to Stephen, a bigtime sneakerhead, known for his colorful collection of kicks.
“I miss walking into a room full of people with suits and ties on and getting tackled from the back – it’s Stephen – he’s tackling me,” Khali said. “I miss that guy. He’s like a big brother to me.”
Stephen served on the Downtown Boxing Gym advisory board for two years. He was truly an angel to our program – always willing to solve problems and bring a positive outlook to every situation.
“Stephen had a way of believing when nobody else was willing to take a chance,” Jessica says. “If something was right, he would always find a way to make it happen no matter what. That fearlessness is something we will always hold close to our hearts.”
What was it about Stephen and the boxing gym that made the two such a perfect fit? It was a deeply human connection – with education, literacy and the strong desire to help students be the best they can be at the forefront. He was incredibly passionate about the need for every child to be a proficient reader, which is in direct alignment with our “books before boxing” motto.
“Stephen truly understood the importance of supporting students through enrichment opportunities,” Jessica adds. “Like Khali, he believed that we need to show our kids the best of everything so they can reach for the stars and see what is possible.”
Stephen Luigi Piazza leaves a legacy of love, support and inspiration at the Downtown Boxing Gym. He has helped change many lives – and he will never be forgotten. We are more determined now than ever to make our program all he envisioned it could be. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, and his Quicken Loans family. We are humbled, grateful, and better for knowing him.
“There are really no words to capture our love for SLP and the impact he has made,” Jessica says. “He is truly one of the most amazing people we will probably ever have the opportunity to know – and we are so incredibly blessed to call him a friend and a mentor.”