Downtown Boxing Gym owner in Detroit named finalist for $100,000 'Hero' award

Kahli Sweeney hopes award would help program grow

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DETROIT – A Detroit man is using boxing to have a major impact on children, and now he's up for a major award that could help his program grow.

Kahli Sweeney's Downtown Boxing Gym teaches children not only the sweet science, but also critical life skills. He's up for a $100,000 award from CNN. He said the money could have a huge impact on the program, but he needs the community's help to win.

When Sweeney was growing up in Detroit, he said he didn't have a safe place to go.

"I had a bad education," Sweeney said. "I was introduced to street life. I was told I'd never make it."

He said that's why he opened up the Downtown Boxing Gym after he got his life back on track. He wanted to help children like him.

"Boxing used to be the hook to get kids in," Sweeney said. "Now, it's so much more."

It started with a small gym and two children. It's grown to a larger facility off of Vernor Highway with 156 children. Sweeney said he's most proud of the math and reading help, cooking classes, music classes and classes in technology that the children are provided.

He said the children are flourishing.

"I like when he pushes," said 9-year-old Garrett Simmons. "That give me a challenge. I like achieving challenges."

Word of mouth has helped the waiting list swell to 850 children. Word about the program has reached CNN, and Sweeney has been named one of 10 national finalists to become CNN's "Hero of the Year."

"I don't feel like a hero," Sweeney said. "I feel like someone who saw a need in the community and stepped up to the plate."

The Downtown Boxing Gym has a 100 percent graduation rate. Sweeney said if he wins CNN Hero of the Year, he will use the $100,000 to get more kids off of the waiting list and hire more tutors.

To vote for Khali Sweeney and the Downtown Boxing Gym, click here. You can vote 30 times per day.

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