How an 8th grader’s letter inspired Coach Khali

As we wrapped up 2017, Khali received a letter from an 8th grade student that truly inspired him. He wanted to thank her in person, so he hopped on a flight to Boston, rented a car, and traveled more than 700 miles to New Hampshire (and back) in a single day. Khali not only surprised Valaria Ramos, the student who wrote the letter, but more than 125 7th and 8th grade students at Alton Central School. Click the video player below to hear from Val and see how the students reacted.

Read Val’s full letter

Dear Mr. Sweeney,

As a part of an eighth-grade assignment, I was directed to choose someone who I believe represents a hero. As you can probably tell, I have chosen you because I believe you are a great representation of a hero. I admire you for starting a program after coming out of hard times. You didn’t just come up with the idea and put it off for “another time” or wait for someone else to come up with the idea, you got yourself out of your situation and started building on an idea that you believed could change the lives of innocent children. How would [being] treated differently in your home [have] influenced your thinking on starting the Downtown Boxing Gym?

I think creating a boxing program for kids and teens alike is very original. If I’m being honest, when I was researching I hadn’t been expecting a boxing program to change many people’s lives, but I’m not too much of a fan of boxing and that might have influenced my thinking. When I started reading some articles, I learned you had spent a lot of your own money for the equipment provided for these kids and to get the building and using that money to buy everything payed off in the end. You helped and are helping to change the lives of many. How much did you impact the lives of these kids, had you expected to change so many? How would you spread the word if and when you decide to expand?

If someone else had gone through what you did, they might have used it as an excuse for not being able to do what others asked of them. But you didn’t. You used your knowledge of what’s out there in Detroit and to help others. That’s really admirable, you change people’s lives every day, preventing them from making silly mistakes that change their lives for the worse. I don’t know if you’re smart or nice, both characteristics that someone would consider a “need” for someone to be a hero. But you prevent children from making a mistake that changes their lives completely and coming from a student in Alton, New Hampshire, is good enough for me. I understand that you are very busy, but I would appreciate it if you could respond.


Valeria R.

An 8th Grade Student @ Alton Central School

An Unexpected Twist

After we met Val, she told us that Khali’s visit made a life-changing impact. This year, she has the opportunity to apply to a prep school that will provide unique learning experiences and expand her educational horizons. Like any teen, she was apprehensive at first about the thought of changing schools and leaving her friends. But Khali’s message – that education changes everything – gave her the boost she needed to pursue this incredible opportunity with confidence. We’re rooting for you, Val!

Here’s what Khali told the students: “Education is the most important thing in the world. Before I learned how to read and write my world was so small. If I wanted something to eat and I was in a restaurant, I had to make a joke – “Man, what are you getting?” I’d eat what they like, and it wasn’t what I like… I never could tell my friends that I couldn’t read.

So now, I worked real hard. I started working a job, I learned how to read and write. Then I decided, what do I want to do now that I have this knowledge? I wanted to pass it along. So I started trying to pass it along to older guys my age. Guys my age would laugh and make a joke out of it because they had the same problems I had. They couldn’t read or write, either.

So then I said, let’s concentrate on when people are young, let’s start reaching out to the young people, let’s be positive to the young people, be role models to somebody. Let’s enhance their lives so they don’t go down the path that we went down. So, from that point on, I dedicated my life of service to helping the young kids in our community and here we are today.”