‘Books Before Boxing:’ How One Gym is Helping Detroit Students

What if I told you there is a place in Detroit that, since 2007, has been actively involved in helping kids inside and outside of the classroom, so much so that 100% of the kids have graduated from high school?

Now, what if I told you that place is a boxing ring?

That’s right. Downtown Boxing Gym (DBG) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in Detroit that serves more than 150 students between the ages of 8 and 18. Since its establishment in 2007, every child served through Downtown Boxing Gym has graduated from high school. The program provides kids with mentorship, coaching, transportation, food and more.

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The program was founded by CEO Khali Sweeney, who wanted to give the kids in Detroit’s east side a safe place to go outside of school to learn and grow into mature adults ready for life after high school.

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Downtown Boxing Gym helps kids in three spaces: the classroom, the ring and in life. In their first year in the program, students improve their academic standing in school by an average of one letter grade. DBG provides daily tutoring, help with homework, test preparation, project completion and math/literacy intervention.

When it comes to the ring, the kids learn about discipline, fitness and how to form lasting relationships. Even parents are encouraged to get involved and take on the role of “head coach” in their child’s life, strengthening familial bonds.

The values and lessons learned in the classroom and in the ring are applied to everyday life by requiring the students to partake in community service. They work with Detroit’s Forgotten Harvest, a nonprofit organization that works to end hunger and food waste in Metro Detroit. During the summer, the kids work in Forgotten Harvest’s gardens and, during the school year, they help sort food in the warehouse. In addition to Forgotten Harvest, the kids also play baseball with The Miracle League, a baseball team in Plymouth for children with special needs.

Attending the gym is free for kids that are accepted into the program, which is made possible by donations and fundraising. The cost to provide one child with one year of services is $1,800. With limited resources, DBG serves a limited number of students. More than 150 kids are enrolled in DBG at any given moment, but there are hundreds of other kids waiting to join. Fortunately, anyone can make a donation to the Gym or apply to volunteer.

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