You may have never heard the name Khali Sweeney, but in Detroit, MI, he is building a legacy and saving lives. Founder of Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program, Sweeney has been able to break the cycle of poverty and violence that many in his hometown are born into. Every day after school, he buses in 100 children to train them in the ring. His kids are learning accountability, sportsmanship, and resiliency through the sport of boxing. Moreover, Sweeney has added tutoring to the youth program, ensuring participants are staying ahead in school and focusing on the importance of education. “Books before boxing” is a common phrase heard around the gym.
Since its inception, the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program has helped nearly 300 students graduate high school, and 98% of them have gone on to college. Sweeney cites his difficult childhood as the reason he has been able to reach these students in a way that others cannot. He has lived through many of the challenges his young boxers are facing right now, so they respect and listen to him intently. Sweeney has dedicated his life to saving these kids from the same hardships he faced when he was their age. “Just imagine if you just fell in a hole and broke every bone in your body. It took you 20 years to crawl out of this hole, and the minute you crawl out, you see a young kid about to run right in that hole. You just move out of the way and let them fall in there? I can't do it. So, I'm going to do everything I can do to stop people from falling in that hole. I'm going to cover it up; I'm going to block it. Whatever I've got to do.”
Yet another reason Sweeney has been so successful in mentoring is because he doesn’t look at or teach his students like they are criminals or delinquents. He sees every young person that comes to his gym as having unlimited potential and worth. This is an important lesson for all those who are working to shape the lives of our children; those who are in challenging situations are incredibly powerful and resilient. They are capable of rising to the top of their circumstances, so we must not constantly treat them as victims. Instead, we must empower them to have confidence in themselves and their abilities. Sweeney has been able to tap into that potential and provide them with the skills to be successful.