This boxing gym is giving the underserved kids of Detroit a second chance at a future.
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The CW Black Lightning

Before he became a boxing coach, Khali Sweeney walked down a troublesome path.

He never learned to read and dropped out of high school when he was in 11th grade. Before he was even 18, he had cards stacked against him. As a result, he turned to a life of crime.

Then one day, a few years later, he made a harrowing realization — most of the kids he knew growing up in Detroit were either in jail or dead.


That was the moment Sweeney decided to take his life in a different direction. He taught himself to read and eventually found a job in construction.

As he got older, he felt compelled to help kids like him have a fighting chance at a better life. So, since he had a passion for boxing, he started coaching neighborhood kids in a local park.

“There’s no recreational facilities around here," says Sweeney. "There’s nothing for kids in this neighborhood to do.”

Coach Khali teaching a student at his gym. All photos via CW Black Lightning.

In 2007, he founded the Downtown Boxing Gym youth program in Detroit — a nonprofit that empowers underserved youth through education, athletics, and mentorship.

Before Downtown Boxing Gym was established, only 14% of the kids in the neighborhood were graduating from high school.

But with the gym's inception, all that changed. Thanks to their state-of-the-art facility, dedicated staff of academic professionals, and well-rounded program, 100% of the kids who've joined the Downtown Boxing Gym program have graduated from high school.

That's because one of the gym's main goals is to offer disadvantaged kids in the neighborhood an opportunity to succeed.

Students in the gym's youth program.

"The students in our program are going to school every day in a school system that’s completely broken," explains Jessica Hauser, executive director of the gym.

For example, according to a recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 4% of Detroit's 8th-grade students can read and perform at their grade level, which is the lowest percentage among big cities in America. But shrinking illiteracy in Detroit is just one of the program's goals.

"We do everything possible to try and counter all the negative things that they’re facing in the school systems," she says. And that starts with the gym's motto: books before boxing.

"If you don’t do your homework before you box, you can’t train that day," says Chrystal Berry, one of the gym's students.

Thanks to tutoring that's tailored to each student's academic needs, kids on average see an improvement of at least one letter grade. That coupled with the daily discipline of boxing helps the kids feel more confident. It's a strong, foundational support system that reminds them they're not alone.

A student in the cooking program at the gym.

The gym has already helped change so many kids' lives. It's amazing what a safe space, a few teachers, and a boxing ring can do.

The setup is helping break the destructive pattern that's often fostered by a poor education system. It's a lifeline for kids who may not have any other healthy outlets in their communities.

For some, like 19-year-old Janelson Figueroa Bocachica, the program can lead to a successful career in boxing. The welterweight just signed a promotional deal with former heavyweight world champion Evander Holyfield. For others, though, boxing is simply a gateway into a world of opportunity they never thought they'd reach.

No matter their passion, as long as they have a desire to do better and reach higher, all kids have a place at the Downtown Boxing Gym.

Learn more about the gym here:

The CW: Black Lightning

He realized everyone he knew growing up was either dead or in jail. So he took action.For more stories about community heroes, tune in to the series premiere of "Black Lightning" on Jan. 16 at 9/8c only on The CW.

Posted by Upworthy on Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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