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Youth box with social issues

The ring in the Downtown Boxing Gym  DONALD BARNES PHOTO

The ring in the Downtown Boxing Gym DONALD BARNES PHOTO

By Donald Barnes
Special to the Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Although the surrounding fields seem more accommodating for urban gardening than pugilism, the Downtown Boxing Gym provides youth in the  Forest and Chene area of Detroit’s eastside with opportunities to learn the proper ways of defending themselves.

While boxing, of course, is one method of self defense, founder Coach Khali believes the best means for a great defense is education. He has structured DBG’s program for male and female youth between ages 7-18. Coach Khali says education is what he wants youth who frequent the gym to take seriously.

“The tutoring program is the main part of the gym. Without education what can you do?” Coach Khali said.

“You have to have a plan B; sports aren’t going to be there for everybody. If you look at sports, there are millions of people who start out playing, by the time you break it down to a professional level, there aren’t too many people who make it.”

Coach Khali founded DBG seven and a half years ago with the vision of providing youth in the area with knowledge on the importance of education, leadership and boxing.

He says he was adopted into a family of boxers and throughout his formative years was trained by his father and cousins.

Coach Khali says he worked with a few friends in the beginning, training his own children which ultimately led to more youth wanting to become involved.

When he started working with the different groups of young people, he says he started to see how he and his students shared a similar story.

“I could see a lot of kids weren’t eating; when I was younger I wasn’t eating,” Coach Khali said.

“I saw some of the kids were having trouble in school, that’s what made me want to offer these kids some guidance.”

Participants in DBG are tutored monthly. Coach Khali says this is a good way to keep them focused and on task.

Yodit Mesfin Johnson, former program manager with the Michigan Women’s Marketplace, speaks to the female students about women’s issues while Khali and a few of his colleagues mentor the male students about conflict resolution, motivation and focus.

Coach Khali says his vision is to see all of his students graduate high school and college.

He says the African American community needs scholars and architects, “I’d like to see the surrounding community produce some lawyers, doctors and engineers.»

“As of right now, every kid who’s stuck with this program from beginning to end has graduated on time,» Khali said. “The kids who are graduating in the next year or two, they are 3.8 – 4.0 students.”

Coach Khali says educating the youth will result in a better living environment for everyone — the youth and adults.

“A lack of education will lead to poverty; poverty is going to lead to crime,” Coach Khali said.

“We have companies coming into the city ready to build; they want to pull from the pool of people here. We need to be (better) educated in order to receive these jobs.”

DBG offers a lunch program in conjunction with Forgotten Harvest, which brings food to the gym daily for the students.

In return for the food service, members of DBG visit local farms to pick and sort food for Forgotten Harvest. Coach Kahli says all of the students at DBG must do community service.

In recent months, DBG raised over $100,000 toward a new facility.  Initially, the Sahcse Construction company offered to donate $50,000 to help construct a new gym provided DBG matched the amount through their own fundraising efforts. Coach Khali says he’s happy they were able to surpass their goal.

«This building is small; we have over 65 kids. When you look at the ring and the space we have in here, you can barely move,” Khali said.

“On top of that, everyone involved is a volunteer. We have crazy light and heat bills. We definitely need a better facility, something that can hold the heat in.”

Teach for Detroit has stepped in and offered its tutoring services and ZipCar Detroit, a shared car service, will donate two free memberships for kids to get to and from the gym.

“Some very strong organizations have stepped up to the plate to help,” Khali said.

“I really appreciate the work they’ve done and the money they’ve put out for the youth.”

To learn more about the DBG contact Executive Director Jessica Hauser at 248.933.3358, or


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