Detroit Free Press: Rachael Ray and Holyfield surprise Detroit youth boxers


Celebrity chef and television personality Rachael Ray whipped up a hearty serving of generosity on Sunday for a group of Detroit youngsters and their after-school program and boxing gym.

The charismatic show host made an afternoon visit to Detroit’s Downtown Boxing Gym at the corner of East Vernor and Beaufait, meeting the program’s 100 youth boxers and their coach, gym founder Khali Sweeney. Ray unveiled a stylish new kitchen and study area for the gym with top-shelf appliances that would ordinarily cost upwards of $50,000, but was donated by the show for free with help from Lowe’s Home Improvement and LG Appliances.

Holyfield arrived to loud cheers and applause. He shared stories from his earliest years in the sport, including his mother’s startled reaction when he was 8 years old and he relayed how a coach told him that he might someday be like Muhammad Ali. His mom’s response: “You know what they’re gonna do to you? They’re gonna hit you!”

Holyfield also offered his young audience the same wisdom that he said he was taught at their age by a boxing trainer about the difference between fantasies and goals.

“A fantasy,” Holyfield said, “is when you want to be something and not work. A goal is when you want to be something and work.”

“So you can’t say you want to be something and not do the work,” the champion explained.

Detroit’s Downtown Boxing Gym offers free academic tutoring, mentoring and boxing instruction to about 100 boys and girls ages 7 to 18. The program, whose motto is “books before boxing,” is heavily dependent on generosity and donations as it costs about $1,200 per student per year. The waiting list currently exceeds 500 students. The young pugilists also are given the opportunity to compete against others in matches across the state or even the country.

Ray learned of the boxing gym through media reports and felt inspired to contribute to its mission. She arrived with over a dozen cameramen and show technicians, who said additional surprises for the gym and its young boxers will be revealed Monday.

Other celebrities including Eminem and Madonna have also given significant contributions to the program and its new 27,000-square-foot gym and headquarters that opened this year.

Detroit parent Lakisha Bond, whose two sons ages 9 and 12 are in the program, said she felt blessed for her boys to have such an opportunity. The organizers make sure that all the kids do their schoolwork, and will even give them work or reading if a student’s teacher didn’t assign any homework that night, she said.

“They’re like another parent,” Bond said.

Footage of the visit will be aired on the Rachael Ray Show’s Thanksgiving special Nov. 25.