The streets have no waiting list. Gangs, dope dealers, and other clowns will take kids in without any thought. It’s far too easy for kids to slip into crime, violence and drug use. They are young, and the scumbags out there are very persuasive.
We have to remember that despite reports that violent crime in Detroit is dropping, there is still an intolerably high murder rate in the city. Detroit still tops the list as the nation’s most dangerous city as there still over 300 murders each year. Young black males make up an impossibly vast portion of those deaths, and Detroit’s east side is home to many of those murders.
One place that is doing an amazing job keeping kids out of the hands of gangs, alive and in school, is the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program.
The gym is located on 4760 St. Aubin, right in the heart of the east side. Coach Khali opened the gym in 2006, all with his own money, and because he knew there needed to be a place that helped these kids from getting killed. It has offered a respite from the harsh realities outside to kids 8-18 years old. The Youth Program doesn’t just teach them to box, but teaches them how to study through tutoring. Before they even start skipping rope, put on the gloves, or step in the ring they have to be hitting the books hard. Besides training and studying, all the kids have to be involved in some aspect of community service, that’s how they repay the gym.
“The work we do is about helping kids navigate the challenges they face in one of Detroit’s toughest neighborhoods and developing the whole person. Their success is our success and it creates a ripple effect that crosses boundaries, creating a true citizen of the world,” from their website.
Boxing is not easy, and for anyone that has been around it, learns quickly that it takes incredible discipline, will, and hard work to get strong enough to step into the ring, and not get hurt.
We had the chance to spend a few hours at the gym recently. The door has a painting that says “train hard,” and once inside it becomes crystal clear that training hard was what all the kids, tutors, coaches and couple of employees were doing. Everyday. Kids were snapping rope, warming up for the night’s workouts, people came in and out, and some parents stayed to help with the training.
The gym is small and needs to move to a larger space. You can tell that the program had long ago outgrown its space. One ring in the corner, multiple light and heavy bags took up most of the space. The rest of the building was used for office space and a room with some computers where the kids can do their homework under the watchful eye of tutors. There was also a locker room in a state of disrepair, and a weight room that was essentially in ruins. The condition of the gym itself hasn’t stopped numerous kids from making it to national bouts, and even to the quarter finals for the Olympics.
Coach Khali is singularly focused. Our presence gave him no pause, and his attention never slipped from teaching his kids the art of boxing.
Kids knocked out push-ups while Coach Khali said things like “if you don’t stay focused you’ll get killed, in here, and out there.” He knows, because he grew up there, and boxing taught him the discipline to stay alive. Those skills the kids are perfecting, stay in the ring. He has no tolerance for kids fighting outside of the gym.
Our guides were an amazing pair of ladies who have come together to ensure that the gym stays open and has a future. And a future in a bigger space. Thanks to private and public donations the gym has purchased a space down the road that will able to accommodate many more kids. The waiting list for the program is over 300 kids. That is 300 kids that are left to the rigors of the streets.
Jessica Hauser, who is the tireless backbone of the gym (and of course Coach Khali), found her way there while looking for an alternative place to workout. She saw what was going on and decided it was time to help out. She was working on her master’s degree in International Children’s rights, so it seemed like the right move.
“It literally captured my heart. I knew I had to stop what I was doing and make this my job. I was talking with Coach Khali and he explained that he was out of money, was about to shut the doors, and tell all the parents and kids that he was done. I couldn’t let that happen,” Hauser said, as we dodged jump ropes and the kids hitting the heavy bags.
Did I mention that the kids who enter the program have a 100% high school graduation rate, and 95% make it to various levels of college? This is astounding in a city where the graduation rate is known to get as low 30%.
“Coach Khali, and everyone else here is another parent to every kid in here,” Hauser mentioned.
Her partner in keeping the gym moving forward is Carolyn Geck, who is the development director. She exuded enthusiasm and the warmth of personality that comes from doing something you love. Something that makes a difference in a sometimes tragic world.
“At one point, I realized I was unhappy with what I was doing. Time to move onto something community oriented. I came in one day, saw the moment all the kids were having. Coach Khali has such a no bullshit approach. I could just tell what was happening was something totally different,” Geck said. “He is saving their lives by taking them out of it all, you can see it on every kid, you can just see it.”
Their goals are clear. Get the new building up and running through various phases of fundraising. The first phase needs over $200,000, that will get them in the building, and get the kids training, and in an even safer environment. The price points continue to grow as the phases unfold. So you can see how much help they need. They eventually want a space with multiple rings, indoor tracks, kitchens to teach nutrition, study rooms, locker rooms, and most importantly, paid tutors. People who will be there all the time for the kids. Volunteers are tough to maintain. There was talk of park.
“These kids don’t know you. They don’t trust you, and they don’t know when your’e going to leave them. Paid teachers give that structure. We will continue with internal testing, to make sure kids are progressing, but also help them connect with their passions. That way they have a better shot at a future,” Geck said.
They have set aggressive goals, and have solid dates coming up. The Grand Opening Celebration is April 18 from 7-11 p.m.
There is a Community Open House, April 30 from 5-9 p.m.. and a Junior Olympic Boxing Tournament, May 2 & 3.
They Grand Opening at the end of April, will not be a totally finished product, but a place they can show off and people can see that the next evolution of the gym is a reality.
Here is what they need.
- Money, can’t explain it enough. Without donations, and all the necessary funding it doesn’t work. HERE IS THE LINK TO DONATE.
- The word needs to spread. People have covered this story, but it can’t be told enough. Share this story.
- They need more knowledgeable coaches. All 6 coaches are parents.
- One huge thing they need is drivers. 70% of the kids are picked up and dropped off. Coach Khali at times is dropping kids off at 10:00 p.m… They don’t want the kids messing with public transportation.
- They are looking to rebuild the website and expand social media. That is always a place to help out if you have the skills.
- DONATIONS. Without the money, more than 300 kids are left to the streets, without the chance the gym gives them.
- You can also sponsor one of the kids. It can be cost-prohibitive for some to keep their kids in the program. LINK TO SPONSOR.
I had the chance to speak with Coach Kali the other day by phone. He only allows a small window of the day to use his phone because he is so dedicated to the kids.
“Yeah, there is no waiting list on the streets. My goal has always been the same, it’s never going to change for me, no matter what happens next. There is also no waiting list at the county morgue, or the jail. They will find room for you in prison. We do need to expand. No choice, we are burying our kids. I want these kids equipped for life,” Coach Khali said.
The Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program is a special effort. If you want to help out, this is a place to start. If you have some friends with deep pockets, and a philanthropic approach let them know. We can’t emphasize it enough. This program has to grow. The kids need everyone chance they can get. Coach Khali has created a no fail effort. Coach Khali, Jessica Hauser, Carolyn Gleck, the tutors, the parents who help coach the kids, and the city itself, need this to succeed.
Everyone wants to throw around the phrase “save Detroit,” Detroit doesn’t need to be saved, but it sure as hell doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help.
“Boxing is the ‘hook’ to get and keep kids in the program. Teaching them to be productive members of society is our passion,” said Coach Khali.