About Downtown Boxing Gym

The Downtown Boxing Gym is a free after-school academic and athletic program that provides Detroit students (ages 8-18) with the tools they need to succeed. DBG has a 100% high school graduation rate since 2007, when we opened our doors. Through tutoring, mentorship, enrichment programs, college and career prep, social-emotional skills building, basic needs support (transportation and meals) and so much more, we train kids for life.

How We Serve

The Downtown Boxing Gym currently serves more than 150 students between the ages of 8 and 18. Our students come to us from 30 different zip codes and 57 schools across Detroit and nearby suburbs.

Our programs are 100% free to all our students. Our ever growing waiting list now exceeds 1,300 children. How do we empower students? Check out the graphic below.

Our Mission

Through education, athletics, mentorship and intervention, the Downtown Boxing Gym empowers Detroit students to be positive and productive members of society.


The Downtown Boxing Gym’s fleet of vans picks up and drops off students daily to ensure that transportation is not a barrier to participation. Our vans reach every corner of the city. Take a look!

The Downtown Boxing Gym is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Every dollar contributed helps to shrink our waiting list and allows us to serve more students.

Meet Our Team

Khali Sweeney

Founder and CEO

Creating a safe haven for Detroit students is what Khali Sweeney had in mind when he opened the doors to Downtown Boxing Gym in 2007 – where the rule is books before boxing. Khali’s passion and mission is to empower young people and change lives through academics, athletics, enrichment opportunities, mentorship, and community service. He shares his knowledge of boxing and enthusiasm for learning by creating an environment where kids can be themselves, support one another, and have the courage to stand up against the pressures they face every day. Khali’s life changed one day when he realized that everyone he knew was either dead or in jail. He knew he had to make a difference, and his program has positively influenced hundreds of young lives. Khali is a 2017 CNN Hero Top 10 finalist and a 2018 recipient of Michigan’s Governor’s Service Award for Mentor of the Year.

Jessica Hauser

Executive Director

Jessica Hauser serves as executive director of the Downtown Boxing Gym, a role she has held since 2010 when she walked into the gym for personal training and was surprised and inspired by what she saw. From that day forward, she has been dedicated to helping the youth program grow and thrive. Her responsibilities include leading the gym’s full and part-time staff, managing all administrative needs, directing fundraising efforts, cultivating a wide variety of educational, cultural and enrichment opportunities for students, and providing strategic direction for the growing nonprofit. Jessica is a graduate of Oakland University with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She completed some coursework for an advanced degree in International Children’s Rights at the University of Michigan. She is a member of the 2018 Crain’s class of 40 Under 40 and serves on the board of the Detroit chapter of Women in Sports and Events (WISE).

Nisha Patel

Chief of Staff

Nisha keeps things running smoothly behind the scenes at DBG, managing calendars and communications for our executive director and CEO and working to drive processes and actionoriented results. She is also a champion for change, focused on process improvements for our organization’s long-term growth. An Ohio native, Nisha is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati with a degree in exercise science and a minor in business administration. She says working at DBG perfectly blends her passions: “I love children and I believe education and physical activity are critically important to a students growth, development and future success.”

Carolyn Geck

Development Director

Carolyn Geck is working to spearhead development and fundraising efforts as Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program continues to grow. Formerly an arts administrator and project manager with Michigan Opera Theatre, she has led initiatives in design, sponsorship, volunteer coordination, production, marketing, and logistics, as well as financial oversight. Carolyn volunteers with Tour de Troit and the March du Nain Rouge, and is a member of the Lofts at New Center Board of Directors.

Meredith Potter

Development Associate

Meredith Potter serves as development administrator and event coordinator for the Downtown Boxing Gym, maintaining donation records and managing donor relations to sustain and grow our community of supporters and friends. In addition, she oversees logistics and planning for the many events the boxing gym hosts both on and off-site. Meredith is a graduate of Mary Washington College; she received a master’s degree in english literature from the University of New Hampshire. Prior to joining the Downtown Boxing Gym, Meredith worked in college admissions and taught English at a boarding school, where she was heavily involved in student life.

Marisa Marco

Marketing Director

Marisa handles all things marketing, design and creative for DBG. Her goal is to keep our message clear and consistent, with the Downtown Boxing Gym’s mission at the forefront. As a metro Detroit native who moved back to Michigan after 12 years in Chicago, Marisa is passionate about marketing for good and especially for the good of Detroit. She is a graduate of Michigan State University and brings more than 15 years of experience in marketing and advertising to our team. She feels truly grateful to be part of DBG and continues to be inspired by the gym’s impact on our youth, our city and our community.

Katie Solomon

Academic and Programs Director

Katie is the Downtown Boxing Gym’s Academic and Programs Director, responsible for academic programming and overseeing our full-time and part-time academic staff. She is a graduate of Michigan State University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s in educational technology. Katie previously taught at a Detroit public school and a Catholic school in Chicago. She comes from a long line of teachers and says empowering and educating young people is part of her DNA. Her goal is to help all of our students reach their greatest potential, partnering with teachers, family members, and the community.

Nicolle Johnson

Associate Director of Academics

Nicolle is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University where she earned a degree in Early Childhood Education and Elementary Education-Integrated Science. She has been an educator since 2004 and has taught every grade level from Headstart to High School within urban, suburban and rural metro Detroit areas. Her true passion is Math and Science. In all her years of teaching, Nicolle has found that in order to be an effective educator and make an impact on your students, you must be consistent, authentic and their biggest cheerleaders with their best interest at heart. Nicolle is truly grateful to be part of the DBG family and is excited to join in their mission of empowering young leaders in our community.

Asiya El (Coach Tamika)

Transportation Coordinator

Asiya El, also known as Coach Tamika, started volunteering at the Downtown Boxing Gym as a parent in March 2013. She joined the coaching staff as Coach Khali’s assistant and an amateur boxing official in April of the same year and helped organize a parent group to raise funds to help students attend out-of-state boxing events. In 2017, she was honored as the “Most Outstanding Official” at the Golden Gloves National Tournament. Today, Coach Tamika is also responsible for overseeing our transportation program, drivers and a fleet of vans. She is a mentor and second mother to many. The safety and well being of our students is her number one priority.
Robin Schwartz

Robin Schwartz

Communications Director

Robin serves as the Downtown Boxing Gym’s chief storyteller, overseeing all aspects of communication, including PR/media relations, social media, blogs and web content, video production and more. Robin is an Emmy awardwinning former TV news anchor/reporter with Fox 2 News in Detroit. She also previously served as director of public relations for Dan Gilbert’s real estate company, Bedrock. Robin has a passion for Detroit and its people, the boxing gym, and the ongoing story of our efforts to change lives and help our students thrive. She owns her own PR firm, Robin Schwartz PR. Members of the media can send inquiries to [email protected]

Clay Coda

Elementary Homeroom Lead & Volunteer Coordinator

Clay is the Downtown Boxing Gym’s Elementary Homeroom Lead and Volunteer Coordinator, helping to guide our program’s youngest students through their academic journeys and inspire in them a love for learning and life. As volunteer coordinator, he also connects our students with brilliant, caring volunteers from all walks of life. Clay has worked with young people for more than a decade in camps, community centers and non-for-profits. He finds joy in sharing his love for numbers, games, animals, stories and the universe with young, growing minds. A native of New York City, he is proud to call Detroit home now and is putting down his roots in the Russell Woods neighborhood.

Asiyah Williamson

Founder’s Apprentice

An ambitious and tenacious former DBG student, Asiyah (pronounced AH-she-ah) serves as the apprentice to our founder and CEO, Khali Sweeney. She is a Detroit native and a DBG 2015 alum who graduated from Henry Ford Academy. Asiyah’s main focus over the last five years has been working alongside Building Detroit and rehabbing local properties. She owns two homes in the city which she has rehabbed herself. Since leaving DBG, Asiyah has also worked in finance for major banking institutions and credits our program with helping her build the skills and work ethic that led to her success. “Within a year of being coached by Khali, my GPA raised to 3.5,” she says. “It is an honor that I can now pass these lessons along to other children growing up in similar circumstances.”

2021-2022 Board of Directors


Rakesh Aneja

Board Chair

Rakesh has twenty years of experience in diesel powertrain development, including engineering leadership and program leadership responsibilities in the fields of advanced engine, aftertreatment and OBD system development. His core competencies include technology and product development (from technical concept through field sustaining); engineering project and platform management; global organization development and collaboration; people development; and continuous improvement via process and tools optimization. Rakesh received his master of science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University, Indiana, U.S.A. and his bachelor of technology degree in mechanical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, India.

Peter Fezzey

Vice President

Peter Fezzey is the VP of Growth for Skidmore Studio where he leads all account and business development functions. Fezzey has over 15 years of experience helping organizations position for growth through strategic partnership development, brand strategy and integrated marketing. As a native Detroiter, he is committed to supporting the community and has helped many local causes, including Detroit Riverfront Conservancy and Karmanos Cancer Institute. Peter was first introduced to the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program while leading development efforts at Forgotten Harvest. He has been actively involved and on our board since 2014.

Joe Schmidt


Joe Schmidt is a Deals Senior Manager at PwC. With a background in both transaction services and external audit, Joe has provided a variety of services for both public and private companies. As a member of the Deals team, he has worked on a variety of projects across industry sectors, company size and geographies. Joe is a Certified Public Accountant in the State of Michigan and received his bachelor’s degree in Economics and Management with an emphasis in accounting from Albion College. As an individual with a passion for athletics and continued learning, Joe strongly believes in the mission and community built at DBG. Joe has been actively involved with the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program since 2017

Gary Wilson


Gary Wilson is a Senior Vice President of JPMorgan Chase & Co. In this role, he oversees all volunteerism for the firm in the state of Michigan. Gary is based in Birmingham and also serves as an ambassador for the firm locally, engaging the business and nonprofit community to showcase JPMorgan Chase’s civic engagement. Gary also serves on an advisory panel for the mayor’s office with the City of Detroit. Gary resides in Commerce Township, MI with his son Logan. Gary holds a degree from the University of Detroit Mercy.

Board Members

Jeff Addison

Jeff Addison is an investor and provides financial advisory services to companies. Previously, he served as a managing director with Conway MacKenzie where he provided turnaround and crisis management services for corporate and government clients. Jeff has been actively involved with the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program since 2014 and is a member of the Detroit Athletic Club.

Dennis Blender

Dennis is an organizational psychologist primarily serving family-business and non-profit organizations. His professional practice has been focused on strategic planning, leadership development and building strong organizational cultures. Dennis launched his own firm, Blender Consulting Group, in 2002. Prior to that, he was a partner at Plante & Moran. He has a Ph.D. from Wayne State University in educational psychology. Dennis is married to Anita, and has 2 daughters, 1 son-in-law, and 2 grandchildren. In addition to consulting, Dennis teaches yoga and meditation. He has hiked the world’s famous trails on 6 continents.

Clifford Brown

Clifford Brown is a managing partner of Woodborn Partners and analyst with Ford Motor Company. He graduated with an undergraduate degree and an MBA in finance from The Ohio State University. He serves on the trustee board of Metropolitan Church of God and is a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.

Julie Lodge-Jarrett

Julie Lodge-Jarrett is Senior Vice President and Chief People Person at DICK’S Sporting Goods. She previously served as Chief Talent Officer (CTO) at Ford Motor Company. Julie, her husband, and their two children lived in Shanghai, China, for nearly 5 years and are avid travelers and adventurists. Julie is a strong champion of Better World initiatives, and has invested countless hours volunteering around the world, helping to make lives better in the communities in which she’s lived, worked and traveled. She was hooked – figuratively and literally – from the first day she walked into DBG, and has previously served as our board chair, helping DBG grow and become the organization we are today.

David Moss

David Moss is the senior partner of Moss & Colella, P.C. He has successfully litigated thousands of cases in Michigan state and federal courts on behalf of clients for more than 30 years. He is highly respected by both plaintiff and defense litigators and regarded as a skilled and tenacious advocate. David is also recognized as a Michigan “Super Lawyer” and is a member of the Multi-Million Dollar Advocate organization. Mr. Moss is a loving father and family man. He is also committed to helping others and enjoys a variety of outdoor activities.

Michael Perkins

Michael Perkins is a Partner Liaison for iHeartMedia’s BIN: Black Information Network, the first and only 24/7 national and local all-news audio service dedicated to providing an objective, accurate and trusted source of continual news coverage with a Black voice and perspective. Michael is responsible for creating partnerships with companies locally and nationally providing them access to all of iheartmedia’s many different media assets and platforms in addition to the black information network. Michael Perkins joins iHeartMedia Detroit from WDET FM, Detroit’s NPR station, where he served as a senior sales rep and sales manager for close to 15 years. He is an undergraduate of alma college and has an MBA from University of Detroit.

Shawn Riley

Shawn has 20 years of experience in wealth management. As an investment advisor with Plante Moran Financial Advisors, he works with high-net-worth individuals and families to help manage and grow their wealth. Through utilizing resources in the firm’s trust and tax departments, Shawn provides comprehensive strategies to manage a family’s full balance sheet. Many of his clients have significant charitable goals where Shawn assists with structuring gifts in a tax-efficient manner.

Shawn was introduced to the Detroit Boxing Gym (DBG) through a stand-up paddleboard race on Belle Isle where he taught some students how to paddleboard. He immediately recognized the impact DBG had on students’ lives and has supported the program since 2017.

Todd Sachse

Todd Sachse is CEO and founder of Sachse Construction, and vice president of Broder & Sachse Real Estate Services, Inc. Over the past 22 years, he has developed a loyal clientele of high-end customers who require detailed expertise in design and construction. Todd earned his bachelor of science degree from the University of Michigan in 1985. He is a licensed builder in dozens of states, certified LEED Accredited Professional and a Senior Level Certified Development, Design and Construction Professional (SCDP)

Plez Williams

Plez Williams is a mortgage banking and real estate professional with more than 25 years of experience. He currently serves as First Vice President at Flagstar Bank where he has worked since 2003. In his current role, Mr. Williams is an operations manager in the mortgage fulfillment department. His primary responsibilities include quality assurance and problem resolution. Prior to his work at Flagstar, he was a licensed real estate agent, serving the Detroit metropolitan area. As a native Detroiter, Plez is passionate about making an impact in the Black community and has been a participant in several grassroots community organizations. Plez received a Master of Science in Finance from Walsh College, and a Bachelor of Science from Eastern Michigan University where he began his collegiate studies after receiving a full athletic scholarship to play football. Married with two sons, he and his family reside in metropolitan Detroit.

JJ Vélez

JJ Vélez is the Director of Public Spaces for the Rocket Community Fund. He previously served two years as the Deputy Director for Parks & Recreation with the City of Detroit. Prior to joining the City of Detroit, Vélez was the Assistant Director of Special and Summer Programs at Cranbrook Schools, providing oversight for aftercare, enrichments, and private music lessons. 

JJ comes to his work with unbridled enthusiasm and positive energy, knowing full-well the critical importance of robust community engagement and responsible partnerships to drive inclusive and equitable access to public spaces. He is currently on the boards of the Chandler Park Conservancy and Brilliant Detroit, and lives in Detroit’s historic Indian Village neighborhood with his wife and two kids.

Brian Vieaux

 Brian is the President of FinLocker, a consumer-enabled financial data platform. He formerly led the Third Party Originations channels for Flagstar Bank, a role he held since May 2012. Prior to joining Flagstar Bank, he held senior officer roles with market leading financial institutions. Brian began his mortgage banking career with Source One Mortgage Services Corporation and was part of the integration team assembled after CitiMortgage’s acquisition of Source One in 1999. Brian’s experience includes strategy, business development, sales and marketing, compliance, quality control and risk management. He is experienced in building business channels in both large and mediumsized companies and has significant experience in all phases of management, including sales production management, human resources, administration, operations, and risk management, as well as training and development. In 2005 Brian attained the Mortgage Bankers Association industry designation of Certified Mortgage Bankers (CMB). Brian is an alumnus of Michigan State University. Brian is a former RESBOG member and sits on the Flagstar Bank CRA and PAC committees. Brian and his wife of 27 years, Amy, have three children, Cameron 24, Ethan 22 and Devon 20.

2021-2022 Advisory Board

John C. Carter

John C. Carter has worked for 35+ years in commercial banking for JPMorgan Chase and predecessor organizations, serving as a manager or executive in charge of various lending and corporate banking groups which provide operating and capital raising services/products to corporate clients. He serves on various internal bank committees and has involvement in several outside organizations, as either member or director: YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit (Director and Past Chairman of Board), YMCA Foundation (Director), Forgotten Harvest (Board and Executive Committee Member), Judson Center (Past Chairman of the Board and Trustee), Judson Center Foundation (Director), Business Leaders of Michigan (Director), Detroit Chamber of Commerce (Director), Detroit Historical Society (Director), Downtown Detroit Partnership (Director), Detroit Riverfront Conservancy (Director), Detroit Economic Club (Director), and Detroit Workforce Development Board.

Dr. Farshad Fotouh

Dr. Farshad Fotouhi is currently Dean of the College of Engineering at Wayne State University. He received his Ph.D. in computer science from Michigan State University, College of Engineering in 1988 and joined the faculty of computer science at Wayne State University in August 1988. He served as the department chair from January 2004-February 2011. Before joining WSU in 1988, he was a faculty member of the Lyman Briggs School, Michigan State University, while earning his Ph.D.

Dr. Fotouhi’s current research interests include biomedical informatics, semantic web and multimedia systems. He has published over 180 papers in refereed journals and conference proceedings. His research has been supported by NSF, NIH, National Institute of Drug Abuse, Michigan Life Sciences Corridor, Ford Motor Company and many other industries.

Ron Fournier

Ron Fournier is the President of Truscott Rossman, where he leads a high-caliber team of experienced strategists, journalists, public affairs specialists, digital media experts, writers and communicators. He was formerly the associate publisher for Crain’s Detroit Business. Fournier Ron led editorial content strategy and worked to expand new business and audience opportunities for the publication. Prior to joining Crain’s, Fournier served as editor-in-chief of the National Journal for two years and as senior political columnist for the National Journal and The Atlantic. Fournier has won many journalism awards, including the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Award and the White House Correspondents’ Association Merriman Smith Memorial Award. A graduate of the University of Detroit Mercy, Ron began his journalistic career in Hot Springs, Arkansas moving to Little Rock to cover then-Governor Bill Clinton. Fournier is the author of Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent’s Expectations, which became a NYT bestseller. He serves on the senior advisory board of the Harvard Institute of Politics.
Jennifer Hammond

Jennifer Hammond

Jennifer Hammond is a beloved television sports anchor/reporter at Fox 2 News in Detroit. For more than two decades she has covered the Detroit Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons along with Michigan and Michigan State sports.

Among the many things she does to support the Downtown Boxing Gym, Jennifer hosts an annual fundraiser called “Hammer’s Bar Stars.” This high-energy event includes local athletes and celebrities serving as bartenders, helping to raise dollars and awareness about our Books Before Boxing program.

Jody Kohner

Jody Kohner is the Executive Vice President of Global Enablement at Salesforce. In this role, Jody inspires a culture of learning at every level of the company. She and her team build world-class learning experiences that are relevant, actionable, measurable and predictable; enabling all employees to pursue their own growth and ultimately fuel the growth of the company.

Jody started with Salesforce in 2011 and is proud of the diverse and eclectic journey that she’s taken with the company, which includes leadership across Product Marketing, Human Resources and Sales.

Jody has established a track record of developing innovative new programs and building high-performing teams. Prior to Salesforce, she spent 10 years at Robert Half International, where she worked in brand marketing. She also oversaw the development, implementation and management of the company’s first marketing automation system.

Bruce Nyberg

Bruce Nyberg joined Flagstar Bank’s board in March 2015, after serving as interim director of Community Banking. As a board member, he serves on the company’s risk committee.

Prior to Flagstar, he was regional president-East Michigan for Huntington Bancshares Incorporated for six years. He had a 28-year career at NBD Bancorp (now Chase Bank), where he led Michigan Commercial Banking, Retail Banking Operations, Marketing, Information Technology, and Electronic Banking. Among his board memberships are the Bowling Green State University Board of Trustees, Forgotten Harvest, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, and the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion

Jennifer Miller Oertel

Jennifer Miller Oertel is a member of the law firm Bodman, PLC, where she co-chairs the firm’s Tax-exempt Organizations and Impact Investing practice group. Jennifer chairs the Nonprofit Corporations Committee of the State Bar of Michigan (Business Law Section) and is certified in nonprofit governance by Georgetown University. Jennifer utilizes her corporate & securities law and governance skills to serve tax-exempt clients, impact investors and social entrepreneurs in all aspects of their activities. She is the first-ever Impact Investing Expert in Residence for the Council of MI Foundations, working on developing and furthering the impact investing ecosystem in Michigan and beyond.

John Owens

John Owens held Senior Management positions in Marketing and Communications with major Midwest financial institutions.  He was privileged to complement his career experience with an “encore” stint as a Director of Communications at Forgotten Harvest, a metro Detroit human services organization.

He is involved in his local community as a Precinct Delegate in Bloomfield Township.

Stephen Luigi Piazza

Stephen Luigi Piazza (SLP) was our rock, mentor, cheerleader, outside-the-box thinker, big dreamer and most importantly, our dear friend. He loved our program, our students and the city of Detroit – and we loved him back. He joined the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program Advisory Board in February of 2014 and worked tirelessly to support efforts to grow our program. We were devastated when SLP passed away after a courageous battle with cancer. He remains a benefactor to the Downtown Boxing Gym through his Shamrock 555 Foundation and his legacy lives on at DBG.

Matthew Roling

Matthew Roling is a professor and chair of Wayne State University’s Accounting Department. Prior to joining Wayne State, Matthew worked in a variety of management consulting and entrepreneurial roles – most recently serving as the CEO of a venture-backed financial technology start-up. A CPA and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Matthew loves to cook, travel and read in his free time.

Jim Ryan

Jim Ryan founded JPRA Architects, an award winning architectural firm specializing in national and international commercial projects, and directed design and marketing activities until his retirement in 2008. He serves Lawrence Tech University on the Alumni Board, Steering Committee, and Distinguished Architectural Alumni. Jim serves as the architectural advisor to the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program.

Hubert Sawyers, III

Hubert is principal at SORSAW Enterprises, a digital marketing consultancy that specializes in optimizing search and social efforts to enhance business activity. Hubert has supported other local causes, including North Rosedale Park Civic Association and Michigan Humane Society. A Michigan State University graduate, he studied both International Relations and Japanese. Born and raised in Detroit, he now resides in Ferndale, and spends time collecting records, cooking, and staying physically active.

Tahir Whitehead

Tahir Whitehead was selected by the Detroit Lions in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft out of Temple University. Whitehead, who became one of the teams most valuable players on special teams through his first two seasons, moved into the starting lineup at middle linebacker for Detroit September 28, 2014. Whitehead finished an impressive season with 86 tackles, 2 interceptions and 5 passes defended. After spending six seasons in Detroit, Whitehead continues his NFL career in Oakland for the Raiders. A native of Newark, New Jersey, Whitehead has found his niche working with youth in the Metro Detroit area, with a primary focus on education. Since September of last year, Whitehead has hosted events with organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan, the Detroit Public School Systems Proud Strong Learners Program and Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program.