Nominee’s nameKhali Sweeney

SEEN Changemaker CategoryNonprofits

A picture of the nomineeA picture of the nominee
Nominee’s job titleFounder and CEO
Nominee’s cityDetroit
Please describe why the nominee is a SEEN Changemaker:

Khali Sweeney is a passionate, dedicated changemaker focused on helping young people grow, thrive and achieve their dreams. As the founder and CEO of the Downtown Boxing Gym, a free, after-school academic and athletic program for Detroit students, Khali has helped to change the lives of hundreds of young leaders in Detroit by providing the tools, resources, love, guidance, support and mentorship they need to succeed. The ripple effect from his life's work will change countless more lives in the future as the boxing gym's students graduate and become doctors who save lives and find cures, politicians who set policies and lead communities, inventors, entrepreneurs, engineers, and the list goes on.

Khali's journey as a changemaker began with himself. After a challenging upbringing and life on the streets, he turned his own life around to become the visionary and youth mentor he is today. All his life he was told he would be “dead or in jail before he turned 21” and, at first, he believed it. But when he saw that through education and positive action he could change that narrative for himself - he was determined to spread the word to anyone who would listen. That's how the Downtown Boxing Gym was born.

Khali has dedicated his life to helping young people succeed. It is his purpose and reason for being - and it's working. The boxing gym has had a 100% high school graduation rate since Khali opened the program's doors. For more than a decade, he has poured all of his time, energy and resources into the nonprofit organization he created and he's refused to ever give up, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. By doing so, he has created a better environment for students, which creates a better city and a better world for all of us. For all of these reasons and so many more, please consider Khali Sweeney for SEEN Changemaker in the nonprofit category.

Tell us about the individual’s accomplishments:

In 2007, Khali started the Downtown Boxing Gym with nothing but an idea for helping students and an abandoned carwash he purchased with his own savings. From those humble beginnings, he has grown and led the Downtown Boxing Gym to become the thriving nonprofit it is today. From a small handful of students, the gym now serves 170 boys and girls, ages 8-18, all year round providing tutoring, mentorship, athletics, college and career readiness, heathy meals, transportation, enrichment programs (like computer coding, music, cooking classes, academic testing), literacy and math intervention and so much more.

From a staff of one (himself) he has trained and brought on coaches and expanded the program to include academic professionals, a development team, a STEAM Lab (science, technology, engineering, art and math) coordinator, an apprentice, and a small army of volunteers. The gym grew out of the old carwash space and into a 27,500 square foot former book binding factory, its current home.

Khali started off picking students up in his own car daily to ensure that transportation was not a barrier for participation. Today, the gym has a fleet of seven vans and a team of drivers who transport students safely to and from the gym each day. Through the efforts of Khali and the team he has built, the gym has a 100% high school graduation rate, a 12-year track record of success, and they're just getting started. Future plans include facility upgrades to make the building more energy efficient and continued expansion and growth to enable the program to reach more children.

Khali was honored as a CNN Hero Top-Ten Finalist and he has received numerous awards including the Governor's Service Award for Mentor of the Year.

How is he/she impacting the community or the lives of people in Metro Detroit or across the world.

Khail's impact on the community and the lives of people in metro Detroit is immeasurable. The students he helps today will become the leaders of tomorrow. Each one of the current 170 students in the program will impact countless lives and the ripple effect goes on and on and on.

While participation in the boxing gym's programs is free, the only form of "payment" that's required is community service. Students at the gym are taught to give back and be good stewards for their community. They regularly volunteer with organizations like Gleaners, where they help pack and sort food for people in need across Southeast Michigan. They do things like spring cleaning for JARC, helping to clear the yards of group homes for the people who live there. They also clean up community parks, like Belle Isle. By participating in these activities as children, they are able to see firsthand how they can make a positive impact. They are learning at an early age to become positive, productive members of our community and those lessones will last a lifetime.

Khali is also helping to impact the lives of people across the world by sharing ideas and information, collaborating, and inspiring others to make positive changes in their own communities. He just recently spent a week at Harvard Business School participating in a professional development program called Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management which brought together 160 social entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders from across the world. Earlier this year, Khali traveled to the Ruhr region of Germany and Barcelona, Spain to study how to reimagine recreation as part of the State of Play Study Tour.

"The mantra both in Germany and Spain is to get young people engaged early and find ways to keep everyone engaged so they stay active throughout their entire lives," Khali said. "That's our focus at the Downtown Boxing Gym - engaging young people through sports and education in an effort to change the course of their lives. We are thankful for the opportunity to participate in the study tour and we look forward to incorporating some of the innovative ideas we learned about overseas."

The impact Khali Sweeney is making continues to grow with every student he reaches, every donor or supporter he engages, and every step he takes to change more young lives. Thank you for your time and consideration.


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