June 26, 2014 at 11:23 pm

Boxing champ Thomas Hearns to help fight Detroit blight

Thomas 'Hitman' Hearns, left, shows Ryan Fishman the fists that won him eight world championship titles and earned him his moniker. (Ryan Fishman photo)

Detroit— Thomas Hearns wants to knock out blight in the east side neighborhood where he grew up.

The eight-time world boxing champion is organizing a July 9 effort to clean up a section of Helen Street near East Grand Boulevard.

“When I drive down Helen Street today, I don’t see the neighborhood that once made me a world champion,” Hearns said. “Instead I see abandoned homes, graffiti, illegally dumped garbage, and brush as tall as me.”

The legendary boxer has people in his corner for the fight: his former promoter, Jackie Kallen, who also grew up in Detroit, Kallen’s friend and 13th District State Senate candidate Ryan Fishman and Repair the World Detroit, a Jewish volunteer organization.

Hearns is the latest in a string of celebrities from Metro Detroit giving back to their community.

Hip hop artist Eminem donated about $200,000 to a Detroit charity to give Christmas presents to needy kids. Last year, rock star Jack White donated $142,000 to save the Masonic Temple from foreclosure. Pop singer Madonna recently visited Detroit Public Schools and the Dime Music School and said on her Website: “I ... look forward to helping make the future of Detroit brighter.”

Kallen, whose life as the first successful female manager was the basis for the 2004 movie “Against the Ropes,” said she is happy to help Hearns with the cleanup.

“He’s family, so when he asks, I try to accommodate him,” she said. “It all just came together at a time when nostalgia is nibbling at me.”

The work will entail picking up trash, removing brush and painting over graffiti. Fishman said the cost of the effort is minimal since tools, supplies and staff are all being donated.

Fishman said Kallen called him to ask for help with the project since he knew Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, having worked for his mayoral campaign. He also contacted friends at Repair the World Detroit, which has a history of conducting community cleanups, working with youth and helping the homeless.

“It was just a no-brainer for me,” said Fishman, a Birmingham attorney and media consultant running for a state Senate seat that represents Berkley, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Clawson, Rochester, Rochester Hills, Royal Oak and Troy.

Hearns was born in Tennessee in 1958 and moved to Detroit with his family in 1963. He lives in Southfield.

The 2012 inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame started boxing when he was 10 and turned pro in 1977 under the tutelage of boxing icon Emanuel Steward, who trained him at the renowned Kronk Gym in Detroit. Hearns was the first boxer in history to win world titles in four divisions. He last fought in 2006.

His devastating punching ability and 48 wins by knockout earned him the monikers the “Hitman” and the “Motor City Cobra.” He’s famous for epic fights with Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran.

“We could make a difference in Detroit together, and show this community how anyone can get involved and take part in the future of our city and our region,” Hearns said.

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Tommy Hearns plans to fight blight in his old neighborhood, a section of ... (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)