From March 25-29, leaders from Southeast Michigan and Western New York were given the incredible opportunity to travel to the Ruhr region of Germany and Barcelona, Spain to study how to reimagine recreation. How would communities change if every child was active? The Downtown Boxing Gym’s founder and CEO Khali Sweeney and Executive Director Jessica Hauser were among those who made the eye-opening trip overseas.

“It was the most magical thing to hear adults talking about youth as an asset NOT as a group of teenagers that need to be occupied because they are nothing but trouble,” Jessica said. “Just that shift in how we look at and talk about our youth in America would make such a huge difference.”

This trip was sponsored by Ralph C. Wilson, Jr, Foundation and organized by the Urban and Regional Policy Program (URP) of The German Marshall Fund. While the focus was on physical activity, numerous speakers also emphasized that being active encompasses mental health, physical health and emotional health.

In Germany, the group visited Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord, a landscape park in the bones of an old steel plant that closed in 1985. Khali and Jessica were inspired by their ability to reuse such an unlikely space for play. (It’s worth mentioning that the Downtown Boxing Gym is housed in a former bookbinding factory on Detroit’s east side.)

In Spain, the study tour included meetings with local government officials and learning about their initiatives to support their youth.

“We were humbled that they were so willing to open up so much to us,” said Jessica. “It was also incredible to hear that they have a youth council [in Barcelona] that reports directly to the local government.”

The message Khali and Jessica heard time and time again from speakers in both countries is that they do their very best to respond to what young people say they need and also what the organizations who support the youth say they need and there is room to learn and grow along the way.

Before the tour wrapped up, the group learned about the key findings of sports for development by FC Barcelona and UNICEF and met with a female soccer player and women’s rights activist among others. They also had the opportunity to explore case study sites, policies and strategies and interact with their European counterparts to understand how these have been implemented. Finally, there were opportunities to brainstorm and reflect as a group on the how these insights could come into play back at home.

“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,” said Khali. “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.”