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Detroit City Gym Helps Kids Deliver Crushing Blows to Low Graduation Rates

“I can’t sugarcoat it. The city is a rough place.”

That’s the thought that pulsed through Coach Khali Sweeney’s mind when he decided he had to use gym to get the kids of Detroit off the streets.

The Downtown Youth Boxing Gym is the only thing keeping many of the kids out of trouble and in school.

While the kids get to have some fun by taking boxing classes, they aren’t allowed to throw a single punch if their homework isn’t done – that’s Coach Sweeney’s rule.

In addition to giving the children something positive to fill their free time, the gym is also a place where the children learn life lessons and get the things that are essential for any child living in the city.

“I’m encouraging them to make healthy choices, healthy decisions, eat right, live right, respect yourself, and do overall good,” Sweeney told NBC. “I mean, you know, educate yourself.”

The children also receive nutritious food and warm coats that are donated from local businesses that support Sweeney and the positive space he has created for the children.

Thanks to Sweeney, many of the students went from losing their battles in the classroom to excelling in their studies.

As Sweeney put it, he had “Z-students” who are now getting A’s and B’s in school and helping to fight back against the city’s low graduation rates.

While the citywide average is resting at 65 percent, the students attending Sweeney’s gym have a stellar 100 percent graduation rate.

Sweeney and his gym have had to face their own battles as well.

There was once a time when the youths’ safe haven was close to shutting down.

Financially, it was difficult for Sweeney to keep the gym afloat.

He was in danger of having the gym’s lights shut off, and, at one point, he even had to move into the gym because he ran out of money.

Regardless of the hardships, however, he never closed his doors to the children, and that dedication has paid off.

Businesses and local residents witnessed what the coach was doing for the children and ultimately doing for the city and pitched in to help however they could.

“Since the first interview [with NBC] and a couple other interviews, we pulled together some support in the community, and the business community stepped up in a big way, in a major way,” Sweeney said. “We’ve been able to keep the lights and gas bill paid on time.”

Sweeney has even been able to pay himself a modest salary.

The only downside, in Sweeney’s eyes, is the fact that there are still hundreds of kids who need his help and guidance.

There are more than 420 kids on the waiting list to join the gym, but it would be impossible for a gym of that size to accommodate such large classes.

Sweeney hopes to expand soon because he knows getting the children into the gym is about more than helping them with homework and giving them something active to do.

“With this culture we have, a lot of these kids will end up in prison,” he said. “A lot of these kids will end up in a graveyard. So you need some positive influences to steer them away from certain things.”


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