Looking back, my first recollection as a child was living in an apartment in the middle of Detroit—on Livernois and West Chicago. Dad had just got back from the war and housing was at a premium. I was just a two-year-old lad when he found that little apartment right there in the middle of Detroit.
We then moved to a duplex, which was a big step up for us. It was actually more like a house. It was located in, what I guess what would be considered, a lower middle-class kind of neighborhood. We lived there until I was 10 years old.
In those days, Detroit public schools were excellent. I went to an elementary school, McColl School, with dedicated teachers. Our teachers were not highly paid, but they did a marvelous job. Back then, we got a first-class grade school education in the Detroit public school system.
When I was 10, we moved to a 900-square-foot brick ranch. They call these types of homes ranches. It was a one-story home, still in Detroit. Back then, anyone who had a brick home was really considered well off. I lived there until I got married.
All those years growing up, nearby was Rouge Park. It’s a big city park. Big, big, big—spanning probably 200 acres. Rouge Park was the poor man’s country club because it was free. We went there almost every day in the summertime—to Brennan Pools. Brennan Pools were built in the 30s. There were three Olympic size swimming pools that us kids enjoyed year after year. Rough Park also had ball fields and tennis courts. In the wintertime, they had skating ponds, toboggan runs, and sledding hills. There were sledding hills all over the place.
We really felt well-off living in that little 900-square-foot house.
But see, those were the days when Detroit was at its zenith. It was the fourth or fifth largest city in the country. It had probably the finest school system in the country. Detroit was a factory town, it was an automotive town, the Motor City. There were jobs all over the place. We had General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler factories all over the place. The headquarters were there in Detroit.
Detroit was a happening place. I couldn’t have grown up in a better environment and at the right time.
Come 1967, the race riots occurred in August of that year. And that was the beginning of the end of Detroit. It went straight downhill from there, very rapidly. The school system failed the kids, people left the city in droves, and overnight it went from a very fine city to a terrible place. The productive people in Detroit moved out to the suburbs, the suburbs continued to thrive in all respects.
Armed with my excellent Detroit public school system education, I was easily accepted at General Motors Institute upon graduation from high school. It was a co-op program where I worked at Cadillac motor car division, in downtown Detroit, and went to school in Flint. I was back and forth between Detroit and Flint. I got a good degree from GMI.
After GMI, I became very successful at Cadillac and then other divisions at General Motors. I retired 36 years later as a fairly high-level executive at GM. I attribute that success, in part, to the excellent education I received in the Detroit public school system and the dedicated people that were part of that.
Along the way, and along life’s journey, I went back and would monitor my old grade school in terms of how the students were doing, how they were scoring on the state tests and so on. They weren’t doing well at all. The test scores kept going down, down, and further down.
It was very sad to me to observe that the 600 kids in that school, that same school where I got an excellent education, were being poorly served to say the least—to the point where those kids had no chance in life. They had no chance, and no one cared—least of all the city politicians, least of all the Democrats, least of all the Republicans. They all profess to care but they don’t care. They’re just looking for votes. The poor people don’t know any better, so they keep voting the same scoundrels into office year after year.
As I witnessed what was taking place I thought, “Someday I’m going to do something about this.” That’s when I stumbled upon the Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program, in Detroit.
Detroit’s Downtown Boxing Gym Youth Program grew out of a desperate neighborhood, far worse than where my old grade school was. The program was inspired by a resident of that neighborhood, Khali Sweeney. With nothing but an idea, nothing but imagination, from nothing, Khali created opportunities for the children in that neighborhood that otherwise they would simply not have.
And so, Khali became part of the Detroit comeback story, because today Detroit is on the upward trend again. Detroit is thriving. Detroit is back. It’s still got a long way to go, but it’s going to get there. There are a lot of reasons for that, but one of them is because of guys like Khali Sweeney.
Khali had a vision, made it a reality, and has dramatically changed the lives of hundreds of children already. (And that’s just in the last five or six years.)
And that, to me, is something I could get behind and support, knowing that there would be tangible results and that every dollar that was sent to the Detroit Downtown Boxing Gym would be used very, very effectively, with very low administrative costs, and with most of the money going to the kids.
Our Fight for Hope event is a way to help Detroit’s youth while raising support and awareness for Khali’s youth program.