Names of Detroit students have been changed to respect the privacy of individuals mentioned.

In order to get to the east side of Detroit by 4:30 p.m., Art & Design Senior Katie Moran leaves campus an hour early, usually returning by 8 p.m. She makes this trip three times a week, averaging between 10 and 15 hours. With gas prices around two dollars, that’s up to $40 in gas. Evidently, her schedule is unusual for a senior; no four-day weekends or wide-open nights for early bar trips or Netflix binges.

Instead, Moran spends these hours with a camera, 60 students between the ages of seven and 18, homework and boxing gloves. It must be a very unique place that can give meaning to such a unique combination, you might be thinking. Well, “unique” doesn’t even cut it. “Magic” might be more appropriate.

Welcome to the Downtown Youth Boxing Gym, a highlight of Detroit. Carlos Sweeny (pretty much exclusively known as “Coach Khali”) opened the gym eight years ago to help other boys and girls in his neighborhood avoid facing the dangers and struggles that he did as a young man. In a city in which the high school graduation rate is 65 percent, Coach Khali’s gym has seen nearly every single one of its students graduate — 96 percent, to be exact. The other four percent are employed or in trade school. Besides their academic success, the entire travel team is nationally ranked.

To box in the ring, students must first be tutored. Everyone who works at the gym — Coach Khali, the trainers and tutors — are volunteers, including Moran. When students come in, they are offered one-on-one academic support and guidance, a free meal and training. Boxing is the reward and the motivator.

While the gym serves 65 students, the waitlist is nearly 400 students long. As a nonprofit organization, the gym runs on donations to keep it on its feet. Although there is a significant out-of-pocket cost for maintaining the gym, donations have allowed for the purchase of a new, larger space that they will relocate to soon.

As a senior in the School of Art and Design, Moran is required to complete a 12-credit Integrated Project, or IP, which is essentially a yearlong senior thesis. Students are provided with two faculty advisors, a studio space and little else but the instructions “Do whatever you want!”

She knew her medium would be documentary photography, and she hoped to find a way to tell a story about Detroit, something that would hit close to home for people. Moran’s father had been a Golden Gloves boxer growing up in a rough neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side, and he inspired her with stories about how the ring became a place where youths could take out their frustrations, instead of on the streets or at school. Moran wanted to find one of these places. With some research, she came across Coach Khali’s TEDx talk.

“He talked about the way that the gym was a safe haven from all the other shit that happens outside. Some of these kids have so much going on around them and at home, and it’s this place that builds community. So I went there and fell in love immediately,” Moran said.

Aside from tutoring, Moran takes photographs: of the boxing, of the tutor room, of kids with their parents, their interactions with the coach and of the people who are constantly coming in and out.

“In my photographs, I’m really trying to show the community that’s built around this space. In a place like Detroit where government has failed so many times, it’s interesting to see how people come together and work together for the greater good,” Moran said.

What began as a project about boxing and its role in keeping kids off the streets of Detroit has come to be something else. The project is no longer about boxing, although it is an important aspect. Instead, it’s about the way people support each other, regular stories about regular people doing special things.

“A lot of the things I hear are just funny. I was talking to a third grader, Will, and we were talking about birthdays. I told him to guess how old I was. He said ‘54?’ I finally told him I was going to be 23 and he goes, ‘I hope my homework is right … ,’ ” Moran said, laughing.

Other stories come close to bringing tears instead. She tells of another student whose house was damaged in a fire. After a porch nearly fell on him one afternoon taking out the trash, the family moved.

“There are days I come home crying. I’ve never experienced anything like that. And you can tell they’ve never been asked some of these questions,” Moran said.

We talked about bubbles: The way that Ann Arbor and the University are a bubble. Detroit is a bubble, too. With her camera and sound recorder in hand, Moran floats back and forth between these bubbles. Her project is intended to break some of these.

“The first time I went, I was pulling out in my car and this girl taps my window and she asked me, ‘Do you think we’re interesting?’ And I said, ‘Yes I really, really do.’ She asked why and I just said I loved all of the great things happening here.”

The gallery space will be in Detroit, so that the entire gym community will have the opportunity to see their story told through Moran’s photographs and accompanying sound stories.

Moran’s project is a chance to show people that Detroit can be revived and that people like Coach Khali are dedicating their lives to doing so. It is equally a chance to show these kids the importance of their experiences and what is happening in their homes.

Coach Khali wakes up at 5:00 a.m. to get to the studio and begin organizing for the day. He is on call for the remaining hours, often picking up students from school. I watched the TEDx talk that Moran referred to. I think that word “passion” gets thrown around, but it is difficult to mistake when you see it.

“We’re doing more than making fighters, we’re making good people,” Coach Khali says in the video, with a casual air of conviction that seems impossible to question.

After so many movies and even last week’s Super Bowl, it’s inspiring to see what real champions look like.

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