Time to get pretty, Detroit. They’re coming: The young, bright leaders of the Detroit Nation. And they’re bringing their friends. Lots of friends.
Next weekend, one of the Nation’s founders, Rachel Jacobs, and her legions will be here to “Discover the D.” This field trip of sorts is a way to expose more Detroit Nation members to the challenges and opportunities Detroit has. There are tours, panel discussion and, of course, great eats and drinks around the city. And once the mighty Detroit Nation knows what needs to be done, they’ll do it.
Here’s the exciting part…One of the things the DtheD trip will do is announced the launch of CommunityNEXT’s Live Detroit Fund. Get this: The group raised more than $100,000 this past August to seed the fund, which will supplement the rent of 25 new Detroit residents. They will receive $250 monthly for a year to live in the big city. (FYI: CommunityNEXT is an arm of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit to attract and retain young talent in the region.
How will these new residents pay it back? By paying it forward. Those selected must give back by planning monthly events that bring even more folks into the city. (Get your application ready; submissions will be accepted next week.)
“The community connection (to Detroit) is very strong,” said Rachel Lachover, director of CommunityNEXT, which established the Live Detroit Fund. “When you’re from Detroit, you carry it with you wherever you go.
And when this powerful group decides they want to do something, “we run at it at full speed – it’s 100 miles per hour,” Lachover told me. No kidding.
The support for this program and the “Discover the D” event is outstanding. CommunityNEXT through its Do It For Detroit series (charity sports tournaments and events held across the country) came together to create the Live Detroit Fund. And companies around Detroit are supporting the Oct. 14-16 trip, including Inside Detroit and Quicken Loans.
Quicken Loans is supporting Detroit Nation through a variety of efforts. One is by hosting Detroit Nation’s Bryan Fenster as a guest on the Quicken Loans-sponsored weekly radio show “Destination 313” on WJR at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14. The largely Detroit-based company also is getting the word out about the weekend through Quicken’s network of community, professional, media and PR contacts. Plus, they’ll send some of their own on the tour to meet and greet these Detroit-friendly folks.
When Jacobs asked Jay Farner for Quicken Loans’ support of the “Discover the D” tour, the president and CMO didn’t hesitate, because, as he said, “Detroit has so much to offer, the more you know about our city the more you will realize how truly special and unique it is.”
I think I speak for all of us at the Hub when I say we HEART Detroit Nation, CommunityNEXT and Jacobs, who has become the de facto public face of group. She’s a great spokeswoman for these native-born Detroiters who may have moved physically out of the city but still hold it near and dear. The first group visited last year.
“A small leadership group came out in November to try to understand what was happening and find the best ways to help,” Jacobs said. It was about seeing the people and the places they previously had only read about online or in newspapers. And meeting those people is part of the reason this group of ex-pats are so dedicated to Detroit.
“This is our pilot program – it’s giving people a taste of what’s happening there, and it allow people to start making those personal connections,” Jacobs said. “Our hope is it will be the first in a series of what we’ll eventually do.”
In other words…it’s about turning a spark into a fire. So it might not be thousands of participants; it might be just dozens. Or one dozen. Whatever. It’s a start.
“Even if it’s a small group, we want them to have a really great experience and leave saying their perspective has changed. That they learned about (Detroit) and they want to get involved,” Jacobs said.
The weekend event will focus on the city’s business growth and opportunities as well as what’s going on with community-based organizations that work on issues of urban revitalization. They will tour good stuff (art, beautiful waterfront property, etc) and the not-so-great stuff (like where the ’67 race riots started). They will break bread together, learn together, sightsee together.
“Our big goal with this is to get people excited,” Jacobs said. “From there, we want that to flow into having a more directed conversation around what the future will hold and what events we could have. … One is what specific opportunities there are for entrepreneurs. It’s about finding people looking to start businesses and looking to connect them with businesses here.”
Detroit Nation, although wildly successful for such a young organization, does face it own difficulties. Getting people to think about coming to Detroit is work enough (and most of the leadership have full-time jobs (!) in addition to their work on the city).
“There’s a lot of excitement about Detroit you can see in social media and the papers. But it’s more of a challenge than you realize to get people here,” Jacobs said. “This is our first attempt at actually bringing people down to the city, giving them that face-to -face experience and start building those bridges (between groups and communities).”
Because once you get Detroit, you get it.
“(Recently), I struck up a conversation with New York entrepreneur who grew up in Ann Arbor. He had heard about the support for Detroit, and he went back to see what was going on there,” Jacob said, “He talked to Detroit Venture Partners, Techtown. He was blown away; those experiences really turned him into an evangelist for the city. You have to really be there to see that.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jacobs has seen a lot of the world. Of all those exotic places, she is partial to one in particular. That’s Detroit. It’s a strange phenomenon, and we should embrace Detroit Nation and all it stands for. That’s because it stands for something great, and that’s trying to figure out what can be done with the soggy city. And it’s not just through words (although words are great and all…) but with action.