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Detroit boxing program builds good people and champions

Downtown Boxing Gym fighter AJ

In spite of all of the growth and development happening in Detroit, there are still some areas where despair and poverty are the norm. Economic and education success have eluded many on the city’s east side, where graduation rates are near 30 percent and crime is among the highest anywhere.

In the middle of all of this, The Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program has found a ray of hope for 7 to18 year-old boys and girls, boasting 100 percent graduation and a clear path to success in the classroom and in life.

“The human body can only go 10 days without water. As a community, it seems sometimes like we’re on our ninth day,” said Khali Sweeney, founder and motivator-in-charge for the highly successful effort that has been helping kids for seven years.

Johnson brothers participate in program

Johnson brothers participate in program

“We’re not trying to build fighters, we’re trying to build good people,” he added. Sweeney is a native Detroiter, growing up in the Harper and Van Dyke area, where the gym is currently located. He says he helps here because it’s where he grew up and because it is an area where help is needed.

The Downtown Boxing Gym consistently works with about 65 children. At last count, there were more than 150 kids on a waiting list to get in. While boxing is the physical cornerstone, Sweeney and a volunteer staff also provide food, mentoring and one-on-one tutoring … whatever is needed to make sure the students are on track in every area of their lives. If they don’t keep up their grades, there’s no boxing.

One of the most important elements of what is being done is the family atmosphere that is created. For some, this is the only real family they know. Sweeney believes this environment gives the kids a place to thrive and build self-confidence, essential to their future success.

Academics are just as important as what goes on in the ring

Academics are just as important as what goes on in the ring

“I believe that once you give a kid that taste of success and the tools they need to succeed they won’t stop until they reach their goals,” he said. “Sometimes all these kids need is for someone to listen to and believe in them. A kid that may seem like trouble to most people can completely turn his/her life around with some direction and guidance.”

Success has come to many of the kids in the ring and in the classroom. All 16 members of the gym’s competition team are currently ranked in the top ten in the nation and several have won world titles this year.

The 16 nationally-ranked boxers from the Downtown Boxing Gym

The 16 nationally-ranked boxers from the Downtown Boxing Gym

Coach Khali is proud of their success, but is quick to stress the backbone of the program is the academics and helping the kids get back on track and change their futures.

An example is one of the students who calls himself  “Q.” While he had a great deal of potential, he struggles with anger issues in school. When he wasn’t getting into fights in school, he was about a “C” student. Once he joined the gym, Coach Khali and the staff tutored him, challenged him and helped him channel his energies in a more positive direction. “Q” is on his way to college now and plans to become a doctor.

Taylor Woodland learns some boxing basics

Taylor Woodland learns some boxing basics

As the program becomes more successful, the need continues to grow. With more than 150 students in waiting, they would like to expand and help even more children. The program, which has helped more than 250 students to date, is free for participants, thanks to donor support.

They recently started an Indiegogo campaign to grow the program, buy a larger facility and purchase more equipment. Thanks to a $50,000 matching challenge grant from Todd Sachse Construction, if they raise $50,000 they get that money and begin the expansion.

“The building is important to house our program, provide boy and girl locker rooms (which they don’t have now) and to provide an area for our academic program, which is the heart of what we do,” said Sweeney.

To find out ways to help, visit the gym’s website at If interested in the Ingdiegogo funding campaign, which runs from now through November 30, 2013, visit their campaign site at

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2 comments on “Detroit boxing program builds good people and champions

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