Coach Khali aims to change lives, runs Downtown Boxing Gym for youth

By Mitch Albom, (@MitchAlbom)
Troy A. Blevins, Online Editor, Producer (@troyblevins)
Published On: Mar 13 2014 05:40:00 PM EDT
Updated On: Mar 13 2014 10:45:01 PM EDT

He works in a ring, but Carlos Sweeny, or Coach Kali as he's known, isn't trying for a crown: He's trying to save lives.

DETROIT -

He works in a ring, but Carlos Sweeny, or Coach Kali as he's known, isn't trying for a crown: He's trying to save lives.

"I grew up on the east side (where) there was no lights and gas at times, and no food," said Kali. "If you can't fight, you know you were going to be that kid that got picked on."

Kali a bullet to his shoulder, which ended his boxing dreams. A high school dropout, he was often in trouble and dangling by a thread.

"My older brother one day...he said, 'All of your friends are dead or in jail, my brother," said Kali.

Khali didn't want to be one of them. He decided to change his life -- and others -- by opening the Downtown Boxing Gym for youth. He knew kids would try it.

"Can you imagine this? I am going to an after-school program, you know, kids might laugh at you but if you say I am going to a boxing gym, kids like, 'Oh, that is cool. I want to come down there with you,'" said Khali.

Once they arrive, it's books before boxing. The gym provides computers, volunteer teachers and an emphasis on discipline for the brain as well as the brawn.

"We have people like Teach for America. We have very educated tech people come down and work with the kids," said Khali. "So when you want to know about calculus, you go in there and talk to the math teacher, but if you want to know about life lessons, you come to Khali."

Khali has enrolled more than 300 kids in the past eight years, most of them graduating high school. Despite the demands for academics and community service, there's now a waiting list of more than 100, which has him searching for a new building.

"What moves me the most is when I see a kid walk across the stage on graduation day," said Khali. "That is the biggest thrill."

It's something he never experienced, but what he tries to provide others every day, Coach Khali is someone willing top go the distance for the heart of Detroit.

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