Founder and CEO Khali Sweeney, left, teaches students a fight stance.
In a city where youth can get lost in the shuffle, one organization is serving as a beacon of hope and light. The Downtown Boxing Gym (DBG) uses athletics to help push the real agenda — education. With a strong foundation and clear vision, DBG is changing lives one student at a time.
The brainchild of founder and CEO Khali Sweeney, Downtown Boxing Gym is a homage to his former self while simultaneously being a rebirth, the Phoenix. Unable to read and write throughout his childhood, Sweeney decided to forge a path for inner-city children to learn the skills to not only succeed in education but in life.
“I grew up in the city, went to school here; grew up here on the east side. I didn’t have a good experience in school. I was always told I would be dead or in jail before I was 21. I was always told you’re not even going to be able to get a job at McDonald’s, you’re not going to even be able to work as a garbage man. Nobody took the time out or even tried to give me another alternative to that,” said Sweeney.
With education as the main focus, DBG helps to inspire youth to greater heights through literacy, math, science, technology and many other skill sets. Though athleticism is the draw, education is the priority.
“Everybody is not an athlete. We’ve got engineers, doctors, lawyers; all they need is the opportunity. It’s business people sitting right in our community, we just have to give them an opportunity; the tools that they need. Here, it’s an education first. Education is plan A not Plan B,” said Sweeney.
Serving youth ages 8 to 18, DBG remains an integral part of students’ lives during their post-secondary journey. Assisting until age 25, DBG provides an educational platform that extends its reach for added educational security and opportunities.
“Once they go off to college, we have people here who are dedicated to helping them through college. So, they can call home or email us here and the same tutoring that they’re getting today, they’ll get when they’re in college,” said Sweeney.
As many schools and after-school programs suffered at the hands of the pandemic, DBG worked to ensure students would be able to continue their academic push towards success. Equipping students with the necessary technology needs such as the Internet, the program also provided PPE to keep families safe and supplied meals for each student’s family.
“When the pandemic hit, when everybody else was closing down, we were still in full fledge, we were still in full push. We had gotten so far and getting these kids two to three grades ahead, or to grade level, we didn’t want that to slip,” said Sweeney.
Downtown Boxing Gym has a 100 percent high school graduation rate since its inception in 2007. With more than 200 students, the program is looking to expand as it commemorates its 15th anniversary.
“Our motto has always been ‘Books before Boxing’ because of my history. I know that education is the key to everything,” said Sweeney.
The Downtown Boxing Gym, located on the city’s east side, has a facility of more than 27,000 square feet of space with the music room, operational kitchen, study labs and two full-size boxing rings. The hands-on approach to learning has allowed students to grow various plants, harvest bees, and exposes them to a world not readily available in the inner city.
“I feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing. Period. I don’t do victory laps,” said Sweeney.
Downtown Boxing Gym will continue to push positivity and impact the lives of its students and their families. The program hopes to continue to inspire children and usher in new students to help further them in their path of success, education and life.