DBG Student Takes Center Stage at the Mackinac Policy Conference

The annual Mackinac Policy Conference May 28-31 at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island brought together Michigan’s most influential leaders to discuss the state’s economic future. In addition to Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, and many other inspiring speakers at this year’s conference, DBG student and graduating senior from the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy King Bethel appeared on stage for a panel discussion called After School: Good for Kids. Good for Business. Among those in the crowd cheering him on were DBG founder and CEO Khali Sweeney, executive director Jessica Hauser, chief advancement officer Peter Fezzey, and King’s mother, Netha Johnson, who joined him for the conference.

King appeared onstage with Kimberly Johnson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Developing K.I.D.S., Michelle Richard, Acting Director, Michigan Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential (MiLEAP), and Ridgway White, President and Chief Executive Officer, CS Mott Foundation. The panel’s moderator was Dave Egner, president and chief executive officer of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation.

“How do we use after school to create talent, to use it as a developmental tool, to help make up for learning loss?” Egner asked the crowd. “To work as a parent partnership to make sure we know where students are – being safe and developing at the same time.” [Click below to watch a recording of the discussion.]

“Most of my education in terms of my artistry came from after school programs,” King, a singer/songwriter and actor told the crowd. “After school is truly impactful. I personally feel like my education in terms of the real world and how I interact with people came from after school activities.”

King first joined the Downtown Boxing Gym when he was 12 years old and remained in the program year after year through graduation, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the years at DBG, he participated in talent shows, worked with mentors in the music studio, honed his writing and public speaking skills, learned leadership skills, participated in individualized academic tutoring, and much more.

“Since my first day at DBG I felt like I was family,” he said. “A lot of my life skills I learned at the Downtown Boxing Gym. They actually changed my life both physically and mentally. I am grateful to DBG for taking me under their wing since day one.”

DBG is proud to have 100% high school graduation rate since 2007 when we opened our doors. Through our program, students gain confidence and score higher than their peers nationally in significant markers for future success including self-efficacy, or the belief they can succeed; adaptability, or the ability to apply and adjust skills in a difficult setting; and a sense of agency, the belief they can make positive changes in their community. 

As elected officials, policymakers and business leaders work to tackle major issues facing our state including workforce readiness, career navigation, mental health, childhood obesity, and more, one panelist noted every issue could be improved in some way by ensuring the availability of quality after school programming.

“There is not a topic that after school [programming] cannot play a role in supporting,” Richard told the crowd.

White said Michigan is third in the nation in out-of-school-time funding (with $50M in the 2024-25 budget) behind California and New York. But California, which is number one, invests about $4 billion per year.

“If Michigan were in proportion to California, we’d be about $1.3 billion a year in funding for after school and out of school time. We’ve got a way to go,” he said, adding, “For every $1 invested in after school there’s a $3 return on investment.”

While there is overwhelming community, political, and educational support, programs like DBG must rely on fundraising and philanthropic dollars from foundations, corporations, private donors, and individuals. And there is a demonstrated need. DBG has more than 2,000 students on its waiting list right now.

“This is infrastructure that matters intensely for the goals we have as a state,” Richard said. “For our talent goals, if we want to recruit people to Michigan, if we want to keep people in Michigan, we have to get [this] right. We are taking some really important first steps.”

The theme of the 2024 Mackinac Policy Conference was “Bridging the Future Together.” Kudos to King for speaking on behalf of students across our state who are positively impacted by after school programs. DBG has a shovel-ready project in the works for a new three-story, 22,000-square-foot building on the campus footprint that will include a new STEAM Lab, community space, and DBG Academy for out-of-market partners implementing the DBG methodology in their programs. This project will enable us to double our capacity and bring hundreds more students into the program. To support our growth and future vision and help train more kids for life, CLICK HERE.