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

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
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Truth

Don't test on animals. That's something we can all agree on, right? No one likes to think of defenseless cats, dogs, hamsters, and birds being exposed to a bunch of things that could make them sick (and the animals aren't happy about it, either). It's no wonder so many people and organizations have fought to stop it. But did you ever think that maybe brands are testing products on us too, they're just not telling us they're doing it?

I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign. We don't do PSAs. We also need to update so to explain truth – the nonprofit behind the truth youth smoking prevention campaign – you could also say this in a funny way – best known for sharing the facts about smoking and vaping or pull from some old campaigns. Just layer in a description of truth and who the campaign is., is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

The dangerous stuff is already out there, but with knowledge on their side, young people will hopefully make the right choices and fight companies making the wrong ones. If you need more convincing, here are the serious facts.

Over the last decade, 127 e-cigarette-related seizures were reported, which prompted the FDA to launch an official investigation in April 2019. Since then, over 215 cases of a new, severe lung illness have sprung up all over the country, with six deaths to date. While scientists aren't yet sure of the root cause, the majority of victims were young adults who regularly vaped and used e-cigarettes. As such, the CDC has launched an official investigation into the potential link.

Sixteen-year-old Luka Kinard, a former frequent e-cigarette-user, is one of the many teens who experienced severe side effects. "Vaping was my biggest addiction," he told NowThis. "It lasted for about 15 months of my high school career." In 2018, Kinard was hospitalized after having a seizure. He also had severe nausea, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

After the harrowing experience, he quit vaping, and began speaking out about his experience to help inform others and hopefully inspire them to quit and/or take action. "It shouldn't take having a seizure as a result of nicotine addiction like I had for teens to realize that these companies are taking advantage of what we don't know," Kinard said.

Teens are 16 times more likely to use e-cigarettes than adults, and four times more likely to take up traditional smoking as a result, according to truth, and yet the e-cigarette market remains virtually unregulated and untested. In fact, companies like JUUL continue to block and prevent FDA regulations, investing more than $1 million in lawyers and lobbying efforts in the last quarter alone.

Photo by Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

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Have you ever watched a movie that's so abysmally bad that you wonder how it ever even got made? Where you think, "Hundreds and hundreds of people had to have been directly involved in the production of this film. Did any of them ever think to say, 'Hey, maybe we should just scrap this idea altogether?"

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