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Carlo Sweeney


Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program

4760 Saint Aubin St.
Detroit, Michigan 48207
In 2005 at the age of 32, Carlo Sweeney used his life savings to start the Downtown Boxing Gym with the aim of helping Detroit kids avoid the pitfalls that befell him as an inner city teen. The program combines the discipline of boxing with a strong focus on academics, community, and family bonds.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program Founder and Coach Carlo Sweeney: It’s going to sound funny, but I don’t think of myself as being a leader; I’m just a messenger. I feel like it’s something I was born with, a part of my DNA. When you set out to do something, sometimes it doesn’t work out, but I’m just trying to use my natural talent to convey information, to tell my story and let kids know “I’ve traveled that road.”
What is your dream for kids?
My dream for kids is for them to grow up to be productive members of society. I want them to avoid the pitfalls of getting
I'd hate to see another lost generation of kids—not just black kids, but all kids—falling into the trap of negativity.
caught up in the system. I’d hate to see another lost generation of kids—not just black kids, but all kids—falling into the trap of negativity. It’s not just an inner city problem, it’s a generational issue; they [kids] need to learn to be more positive.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
Most of the spotlight is given to long-standing organizations. We need to pay more attention to new ideas -- the start-ups and grass roots organizations -- to make it easier for those to get funding. It seems like you have to do something X number of years before getting funding.
How do you know you’re making progress?
Jessica [Hauser, Chief Administrative Officer] likes to look at numbers and data. For example, our student athletes have a 100 percent graduation rate so far, compared with the 37 percent city average.
For me, I know we’re making progress when I see it with my own eyes; when I see kids graduate, go to college, become
...to successfully accomplish something, you have to follow the blueprint: go according to a plan, and things will come out correctly.
productive members of society, and have their own homes and families.
What are you most proud of?
It’s cool when the kids rank and win their matches, but I’ve been around the sport long enough to know that nine times out of ten, you’re not going to be a world champion in boxing. I’m proud of all of them. But to see a kid graduate and go on to college… that’s really something.
What originally drew you to your current profession, and what have you been able to draw on from your past occupations?
All my life I’ve had a natural urge to tell people about my experiences so they can learn from them. I’ve wanted to start the gym since I was 22. Something I learned from my work in construction is that to successfully accomplish something, you have to follow the blueprint: go according to a plan, and things will come out correctly. It’s the same for boxing and academics. If the kids stay on track with the game plan and stay focused, they’ll be successful.
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Program Profile


  • Downtown Boxing Gym
    Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program (DBG) is a Detroit 501(c)3 nonprofit that develops good citizenship in urban youth through a demanding boxing program in addition to strong academic support and a connection to the community through voluntary ...


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