The Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program Receives $500,000 Pledge from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation


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Detroit's Downtown Boxing Gym, which offers free, after-school academic and athletic programs, received a two-year $500,000 grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.

Photo courtesy of the Downtown Boxing Gym

Located on Detroit’s east side, the Downtown Boxing Gym has received a two-year $500,000 grant from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. The gym was started in 2007 and offers free, after-school academic and athletic programs. Referred to as the “books before boxing” approach, the gym has served an increasing number of students each year. The grant will assist with the gym’s goal of serving 250 students by 2020, along with the creation of an apprenticeship program.

“This support is critical and it will help change lives for generations to come,” says Khali Sweeney, founder and CEO of the Downtown Boxing Gym. “This grant will enable us to create longevity for the program and ensure Detroit students receive the tools and resources to succeed long after any one of us is here. We thank the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation for helping us move our mission forward in such a significant and meaningful way.”

Eleven years ago, Sweeney began the program in order to provide the tutoring, mentorship, enrichment, and community service opportunities that he never experienced as a child. Now a 2017 Top 10 CNN Hero, the program he started works to make sure students do not go down the wrong path. To date, 100 percent of participating students have graduated from high school.

Currently serving 150 boys and girls ages 8-18, the organization’s reach spans 30 zip codes and 57 schools through metro Detroit. There is a 850-student waiting list to get in.

“The streets have no waiting list. The county jail has no waiting list. The city morgue is open 24/7,” says Sweeney. “We can’t afford to have a waiting list when we’re building our next generation of leaders – our future doctors and lawyers and inventors, politicians, police officers, and engineers. That’s why grants like this are so impactful.”

As the largest grant the boxing gym has received, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. grant will give $250,000 in funding in each 2018 and 2019. The money will go toward hiring additional full-time, professional educators, and will allow additional students to join the program.  

“Coach Khali and the entire team at the Downtown Boxing Gym have found a way to create an environment that combines all the ingredients needed for children to realize their full potential,” says Jim Boyle, vice president of programs and communications at the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. “In addition to the academic enrichment and opportunities to participate in a variety of sports, the gym is a community that demonstrates to kids they are valued.”

Additionally, the gym will create an apprenticeship program that will allow Sweeney to mold and shape the next generation of boxing gym leaders to carry on the mission. The gym has the long-term goal of opening more facilities both in Detroit and around the country.  

“We work to ensure that our students break the cycle of poverty, unhealthy lifestyles, and prison pipelines – and we’re proud of the lasting successes we’ve had,” says Jessica Hauser, Downtown Boxing Gym executive director. “We expect to scale our program in a thoughtful and appropriate way that recognizes the importance of addressing each child’s academic, socio-emotional, and physical needs. Our students face positive, productive, and bright futures, and thanks to generous support from organizations like the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, our program does, too.”

The Downtown Boxing Gym is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. The program was founded by Coach Khali Sweeney and focuses on books before boxing. It includes tutoring, mentorship, enrichment programs, college and career readiness, healthy meals, transportation, community service opportunities, and athletics all year round. The program is housed in a former bookbinding factory on East Vernor Highway in Detroit.

The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation is a grant-making organization dedicated primarily to sustained investment in the quality of life of the people of southeast Michigan and western New York. The two areas reflect Ralph C. Wilson Jr.’s devotion to his hometown of Detroit and greater Buffalo, home of his Buffalo Bills franchise. Prior to his passing in 2014, Wilson requested that a significant share of his estate be used to continue a life-long generosity of spirit by funding the foundation that bears his name. The foundation has a grant-making capacity of $1.2 billion over a 20-year period, which expires Jan. 8, 2035. This structure is consistent with Wilson’s desire for the foundation’s impact to be immediate, substantial, measurable, and overseen by those who knew him best.

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