At Detroit's Downtown Boxing Gym, kids find athletic and academic success

NBC News - On a cold December day in East Detroit, a dozen kids form a human assembly line stretching across the parking lot of the Downtown Boxing Gym.

DETROIT, Mich. — On a cold December day in East Detroit, a dozen kids form a human assembly line stretching across the parking lot of the Downtown Boxing Gym.

With strong arms, the kids grab and push boxes of food from the delivery truck.

“The kids don’t go without a meal,” Coach Khali Sweeney told NBC News. “Forgotten Harvest, the local food bank, they’ll bring food here for ’em, so we have food for the kids to eat healthy.”

According to a 2010 report, more than half of the city’s households with children under 18 receive food assistance from the state.

But that food is just one of the reasons the kids depend on this gym, which is the only building left standing on its city block.

To learn more about the Downtown Boxing Gym, please click here to visit their website. 

It is surrounded by a handful of vacant lots and remnants of abandoned buildings, where the kids sometimes run laps at night.

“It’s not, like, really safe for us to go out there and train,” 19-year-old boxer Anthony Flagg Jr. said.  “But we do it anyway. They say boxing, you’re risking your life.”

For these kids, there are risks both in and out of the ring.

Across train tracks, less than a mile away from the gym, there’s a scene of a different kind: a new Whole Foods grocery– a sign of new life for the struggling city.

“I appreciate and applaud all the efforts goin’ into […] buildin’ the city,” Sweeney said. “But the residents themselves, they’re not gonna see that for a long time, and they’re still suffering. So places like this is a good place for kids to go. ”

We first profiled the Downtown Boxing Gym back in March of 2013. The gym, a grassroots effort to keep kids off the streets, had no heat, and was beyond capacity. Since the story aired, the gym has received an outpouring of support from their community and from viewers across the nation.

“A lot of doors opened up for us,” Sweeney said. “There was a lot of people working behind the scenes, but a lot more people reached out to us.”

Sweeney, who still goes to pick up students for practice, now uses donated Zipcars to get around the city. Rides are not limited to and from the gym; the students’ parents can call for help as necessary.

“They are my family, all of ’em,” Sweeney said. “I wouldn’t drive across the planet, you know, if they wasn’t.”

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