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Stories of Impact

Learning Initiatives

Helping Children Read and Learn with the Downtown Boxing Gym

“The Walters Family Foundation truly understands the kind of impact that a non-traditional education resource like ours can have on a child.”

Jessica Hauser, Executive Director, Downtown Boxing Gym

Detroit, MI (June 2020)Khali Sweeney grew up in the Detroit Public Schools not knowing how to read or write. He remembers the narrative that was reinforced to him over and over again — “it doesn’t matter what you do, you’re going to be dead or in jail by the time you’re 21.” It’s a narrative he never forgot, and one of his motivations in creating the Downtown Boxing Gym.

The Downtown Boxing Gym serves boys and girls, aged eight to 18, from low- to moderate-income families in the city of Detroit. A free program, the gym provides a safe, healthy afterschool space, and uses athletics, education, mentoring and intervention to help students learn effectively, elevate their voice and pursue their dreams.  During the coronavirus pandemic, this has converted to online learning and phone support along with distribution of food.

Reading Literacy with Downtown Boxing GymDownload a high-resolution version of this photo.

“Khali wanted to create the space he wished he would have had growing up,” says Jessica Hauser. “We believe there’s absolutely no reason why any child should graduate from high school without knowing how to read.”

Envisioning the right environment for kids to focus on literacy and learning and not feel embarrassed or exposed about their shortcomings has always been a key concern for Downtown Boxing Gym. But the organization never had sufficient funding to develop an appropriate learning space.

Thanks to support from the Walters Family Foundation, the Downtown Boxing Gym is now able to bring to life its “Library Project.” Funding supports the library’s construction, furniture and technology that will allow students to continue their academic pursuits, enrichment programming, and college and career preparation, all in a quiet, thoughtful atmosphere.

What’s more, it will allow the Downtown Boxing Gym to double the number of students it can serve from its 1,300 person waiting list, as well as reduce its operating costs through sustainable and energy-efficient design.

The gym’s motto “Books before Boxing” has proven true as evidenced by the program’s 100% high school graduation rate. We tell students that everything they do will lead them somewhere,” says Hauser. “This new library space will allow them to learn, grow and envision the goals they want to achieve in their lives.”