From Nonprofit “Draft Pick” to Social Justice Thought Leader, Here’s How DBG Took Part in NFL Draft Events

Detroit dazzled in the NFL draft spotlight April 25-27, breaking the event’s three-day attendance record with more than 775,000 fans. It was the first time our city hosted a draft and the Downtown Boxing Gym was proud to play a role in several key draft-related events.

To kick off the week, the Detroit Sports Commission (DSC) hosted a community impact and media day at the Corner Ballpark in Corktown where DBG was named a nonprofit “draft pick” as part of the Living Legacy Initiative. The initiative is designed to promote youth literacy and sports, with a special emphasis on empowering girls in sports across Detroit and neighboring communities. It was a pivotal component of the sports commission’s bid for Detroit to host the NFL draft. 

“The Detroit Sports Commission – with support from Visit Detroit, Detroit City Council, and generous donors from the local civic, corporate and philanthropic community – is pleased to offer grants to organizations throughout Detroit’s seven districts and the region,” said Dave Beachnau, executive director of the Detroit Sports Commission.

DBG was recognized and awarded a grant from Amazon during the event moderated by NBC sportscaster Mike Tirico. Athletes Without Limits, Horatio Williams Foundation, Rhonda Walker Foundation, Derrick Coleman Elite, and Future Star Guards were also recognized along with other community organizations.

“Our partners help make our transformative work possible,” said Khali Sweeney, DBG’s founder and CEO. “It’s meaningful for us to be highlighted in this way with the world watching Detroit. We are grateful for the recognition and support.”

Social Justice Town Hall (Greg Payan/AP Images)

DBG is also proud to be a longtime Inspire Change partner of the Detroit Lions which recognizes individuals in each NFL team market who are making a difference through social justice work. On April 23, Khali participated in a social justice panel discussion at the Hortatio Williams Foundation with Lions legend Joique Ball, Angela Rayes, executive director of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, and Dr. Michele Lewis Watts, co-owner of Watts & Watts Effect, an equity-inclusion consulting firm.

A great deal of the discussion focused on the importance of literacy – something DBG focuses on daily and Khali knows about firsthand from his own childhood and life experiences. DBG was founded because Khali wanted to provide the tools, resources, role models, and pathways for success he never had as a child. He was passed from grade to grade all the way through high school without ever learning to read or write. He later learned as an adult.

“I decided to get my GED, so I signed up and during the first session someone pulled me aside and said, ‘You can’t get your GED,’” Khali recalled. “And I said, ‘Why? I paid my $40 like everyone else.”

The person went on to explain it was because Khali could not read or write. He needed to start from the beginning – go all the way back to a Kindergarten reading level and learn from there – and that’s exactly what he did.

“The experience made me think, this is a victory for me, but how can I make this a victory for my whole community?” he said. “How can I extend the same love that was extended to me?”

That’s how the Downtown Boxing Gym was born in 2007. Today, DBG’s literacy program is nationally recognized for its impact. The U.S. Library of Congress recently awarded DBG the American Prize for significantly increasing reading levels in the U.S. DBG students increase an average of 5.5 reading levels per year.

Throughout the week, the excitement continued. DBG 6th grader Ojni (pronounced AH-ja-NEE) got to meet NFL draft hopefuls, pose for photos, and collect autographs. She was celebrated because of her passion for flag football and the transformative role of youth sports and out-of-school-time programming in her life. The junior coach who helps mentor and inspire her peers also received a surprise gift and got to announce the fifth-round draft pick, number 25, on behalf of the Buffalo Bills in front of a sea of sports fans on the massive stage in Detroit’s Campus Martius Park. Read more here.

DBG was proud to be part of this historic moment for our city. Now, we’re preparing for another big event, the 2024 National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions, a prestigious annual boxing event that will take place at Huntington Place in Detroit May 13-18, 2024.

The top amateur boxers from across the United States and as far away as Hawaii will face off in a high intensity week-long boxing tournament. More than 300 boxers in 20 weight classes will compete for the title of National Golden Gloves Champion and will be joined by approximately 250 coaches and 75 officials. Male and female athletes ages of 18-42 will represent 30 Golden Gloves franchises from across the country. The tournament returns to Detroit for the first time since 2000 and coincides with the 90th anniversary of Metro Detroit Golden Gloves. 

DBG played a key role in bringing this renowned competition to our city and is a host and sponsor. We hope to see you there. Learn more and get tickets here.

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To honor Khali, DBG, and our impact, the KLA Foundation and Art VanElslander Foundation are generously matching $120,000 in donations to DBG.

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