Khali Sweeney has a saying he likes to share with students when they enter the program. “You’re one injury away from being homeless.” He’s not being pessimistic and he’s far from discouraging. Instead, Sweeney offers a cautionary reminder to those looking to become boxing champions that they need to have a backup plan. It’s now etched in the program’s motto, “Books before Boxing.”
The Downtown Boxing Gym is a clever and intentional misnomer. Kids may get involved so they can get in the ring and spar, but they soon discover that there’s more value in the education they receive there. That learning ranges from purely academic to life lessons that set these students up for success. The proof? The program’s record thus far is impeccable: there is a 100% high school graduation rate among participating students. Of those in the program, 98% go off to college or start their careers shortly thereafter. That’s only a handful of kids in Detroit who are beating the odds - they want more success and more students.
The program's record thus far is impeccable: there is a 100% high school graduation rate among participating students.
With more than 850 kids on the waiting list, this robust (and free) program has become part of the fiber of Detroit. Kids that live in poverty, come from broken homes or feel the impact of a Detroit school district that’s lacking can come here and thrive. The gym currently gym serves 170 Detroit students, but the non-profit organization’s goal is to grow so they can accommodate more students. The target is 250 students by 2019. To do so, they need more people, resources and money. It’s a lot more than just scholastic tutors and boxing coaches that keep the gym humming. Every day, the students are picked up and dropped off by a fleet of vans, they are provided with a healthy meal through a partnership with Forgotten Harvest, and the gym even takes students on regular outings around town; kayaking, horseback riding, paddle boarding, and various other field trips.
The Downtown Boxing Gym is a well-oiled organization – from the volunteers and staff to an active and committed board of directors. That’s why we jumped at the opportunity to be part of this tremendous program when Development Director, Carolyn Geck, reached out to us back in 2015 needing t-shirts printed for an event. After developing a great relationship with Carolyn and meeting some of the staff, we realized this was doing something special and we wanted to be part of it. We wanted to build a relationship and be part of the gym in some small way, so we started selling our “I Love Detroit” wristbands online and donating the proceeds to the gym.
Students in the program, in turn, got involved and helped by selling them to friends and family. The gym was ready to take the next step sell more t-shirts, but couldn’t quite manage the fulfillment process. We agreed to make the shirts, hold the inventory, fulfill the orders and donate a portion of the proceeds back to the program. The shirts are for sale on the boxing gym website - it redirects redirect to our site to complete the transaction, and proceeds go back to the gym where they belong. It works great for everyone.
Whether from grants, donations or direct sales of our merchandise – the money always goes back into the program to benefit the kids first and foremost. Nobody gets paid to mop the floors or mow the lawn; Sweeney does it himself, and he’s happy to do so. The kids are his passion and the boxing gym is his vehicle, the place where his mission and his purpose intersect. When he’s not working with the kids on site, he’s usually leading group tours offsite, meeting with potential donors and corporate leaders who are inspired by his story. He’s always the first one in and the last to leave.
The money always goes back into the program to benefit the kids first and foremost.
The board of directors and advisory board also work hard to make the program run more efficiently. Currently, the gym is looking to make the building more energy efficient so more money can go to the kids. It’s outside-the-box ideas like this that make this place so great.
It’s very easy to get involved and support the Downtown Boxing Gym today. Just visit the website and click the “Get Involved” button on the menu. You can make a donation, volunteer, sponsor a student or even find a job. You can also subscribe to the regular emails they send to stay abreast of what’s happening at the gym.
We hope you’ll join us in supporting the Downtown Boxing Gym; we’re very proud of the work they are doing and our relationship with them. We hope to collaborate on new products and other ventures with them in the near future. For now, we’ll keep selling shirts and bracelets. We encourage you to represent, proudly wearing the Downtown Boxing Gym’s logo on your chest and knowing that you’re helping to make a difference. Whether your contribution underwrites a speed bag or a book, you’re investing in the future of Detroit.
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What: RiDetroit’s Season Opening Party
When: Saturday, April 20 6-9pm
Where: George Gregory - 1422 Michigan Ave. Detroit
Details: Food, Drinks & Giveaways