If you’re paying attention to Detroit at all these days, then you know it’s all about the long game. If you want to come into town and take a few selfies, that’s fine. But if you want to be part of the city in meaningful ways, you’ve got to buy in and stay in.
That is where the Detroit Revitalization Fellows excel. Not only is this a unique program in terms of giving mid-career professionals an opportunity to grow alongside Detroit, it also is a practical way to attack some of the city’s most sizable issues with substance.
In its third cohort of this program, a group of 23 individuals and companies will examine big-picture projects ranging from transit to technology to homelessness to neighborhood development. These aren’t people who are afraid of challenge. Rather, they embrace it, they study it, they slay it.
On Monday, the Detroit Revitalization Fellows, Wayne State University, the Kresge Foundation and Mayor Mike Duggan’s office announced a new twist to the program. This year, three alums will return to the Fellowship and take on special tasks within the Mayor’s office. These “Kresge Mayor’s Fellows” will add new muscle to Duggan’s workforce, putting three well-known and well-respected professionals in front of three mighty challenges.
This is about momentum, said WSU President M. Roy Wilson. It is about energy, talent and commitment to Detroit, said Kresge Foundation President and CEO Rip Rapson. It is about accelerating Detroit’s growth, said Mayor Duggan. It is about civic, community and economic development, said Graig Donnelly, Detroit Revitalization Fellows Director. I’ll add one more: It is about credibility, giving these projects the experience and connections they need to succeed.
Let’s just say that many parts of Detroit are still under development. They need help. They need people who know the system (which is slowly being unraveled, but it still tangled and difficult to manage). The city needs people who want to figure out the knots, work them out and lay the path straight for those coming after them. That, in a nutshell, is what this fellowship program is all about.
Donnelly said this year’s group has a great mix of people who have both personal and professional life experience. Nearly 75 percent are female. About 42 percent are between the ages of 25 and 34. About 47 percent are African American. That means they’re young, they’re smart and they’re ready to take everything they’ve learned so far as well as the career development they’ll gain as Fellows and apply it to Detroit.
“The things that they’re taking on right now have a crucial place in the country,” Donnelly said. “It’s not just about our city or region.”
And, as Donnelly noted, these are opportunities or changes that are generational. They take time to solve. You’d need a lifetime to solve some of Detroit’s problems – two years might not get everything, but it certainly will start to show us the way to that lofty goal of making this urban center the best it can be both for us to enjoy and for the world to emulate.
“Our value proposition is that long game; we’re building our next leaders for our city and our region,” Donnelly said. “The people who are (Detroit Revitalization Fellows) are at the forefront but they’re also behind the scenes, making the important things happen that affect all of our quality of life. That’s why we’re making this investment – so they’re equipped to lead us well into the future.”
Some background. The 2015-2017 Detroit Revitalization Fellows will serve two-year appointments in both public and nonprofit organizations in and around Detroit. These groups have one thing in common: They all are focused on Detroit’s rebirth and the region. Each one will take one a project with his or her employer in hopes of pounding out solutions to local and regional issues.
Why two years? Donnelly said that’s because they need all of that time to not only get good at their jobs but to receive lots of support from his office, their fellow Fellows and alums.
“It takes two years to work on important projects and initiatives that will drive progress in and around the city. It takes two years to get geared up to understand who you are as a leader,” Donnelly said. “Twice a month, they’ll meet with professional coaches, receive in training to enhance their abilities and interests.
“Plus,” Donnelly added, “they’ll come together monthly in curated leadership development training and Detroit dialogues – get-together with everyone from grandmothers in their neighborhood groups as well as conversations with the mayor, the police chief, professors, kids, foundation heads. We value the dialog with the leaders in our communities that our fellows are meeting – we believe it is critical. It gives you what you need to go out into the world then and after to make real change.”
The 23 fellows come from as near as, well, Detroit to as far as San Francisco. This year, the Detroit Revitalization Fellows had its highest applicant pool in its four-year history; more than 650 people wrote up their best qualities in hopes of securing a spot in the prestigious fellowship. And some 65 businesses, nonprofits and groups applied for the 23 employer openings in the program.
The program was inspired by the Rockefeller Foundation’s CUREx Fellowships, started in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to attract urbanists from across the country to help rebuild the city. Fifty-one Fellows from across the United States, including native Detroiters and Michiganders, have participated in two successive cohorts since the program began; 23 Fellows in the third cohort began their service this month.
Detroit Revitalization Fellows is a program of Wayne State University’s Office of Economic Development and has been supported by The Kresge Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Hudson-Webber Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Skillman Foundation, the DTE Energy Foundation, the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, PwC Charitable Foundation, Inc. and Wayne State University.
Over the last four years, our Fellows have played integral roles in key projects driving progress in Detroit, from fighting blight through Motor City Mapping, to fostering pop-up retail through Revolve Detroit to literally bringing some Detroiters out of darkness at the Public Lighting Authority, Donnelly said.
The 2015-17 Kresge Mayor’s Fellows and their assignments are: Diana Flora (2013-15 Fellow at Data Driven Detroit): Director of Strategy Development, Detroit Police Department; Jeanet Kulcsar (2011-13 Fellow at Invest Detroit): Director of Resident Opportunity Initiatives, Jobs and Economy Team; and Jerrell Harris (2013-15 Fellow at Focus: HOPE): Director of Restructuring & Transformation, Mayor’s Office.
The 2015 Detroit Revitalization Fellows and their assignments are: Aja Bonner, program associate, Hudson-Webber Foundation; Kalisha Davis, director of community outreach and engagement, Detroit Historical Society; Susan Dundon, business innovation director – Youth Energy Squad, EcoWorks; Aaron Goodman, community engagement manager, Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD); Samira Guyot, manager of legal education, Michigan Community Resources; Terryn Hall, manager of strategic partnerships, Teen HYPE; Ritchie Harrison, community development planner, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy; Joel Howrani Heeres, director, Open Data & Analysis, City of Detroit Department of Innovation and Technology; Melvin Henley, project manager, Council of Creative Industries, Detroit, Detroit Creative Corridor Center; Debra Houghtaling, urban planner, Henry Ford Health System; Ouida Jones, owner’s representative – Vernor Crossing Development, Southwest Detroit Business Association; Jeffrey Nolish, transportation program manager, MetroMatters; Martha Potere, economic development program manager, Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation; Aneetha Ramadas, social impact researcher, Data Driven Detroit; Brittany Sanders, community engagement manager, Belle Isle Conservancy; Charla Sanders, employment district program manager, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC); Delphia Simmons, director, Passport to Self-Sufficiency, Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS); Michael Smith, director of neighborhood strategies, Invest Detroit; Jeri Stroupe, senior project administrator, Office of Economic Development, Wayne State University; Leslie Tom, chief sustainability officer, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History; Patricia White, development director, Eight Mile Business Improvement District, Eight Mile Boulevard Association; Shari Williams, neighborhoods and operations program manager, Detroit Future City; Gracieuse Xavier, director of corporate & economic development strategy, Global Detroit.
Whew. Those are amazing people. And they’re coming together into a strong network of Fellows who will mentor them, guide them and – most importantly, Donnelly noted – also learn from them.
“What’s unique about the program is a focus on building a leadership network. These fellows are not only working through their own organizations but are also developing relationships with each other to encourage cross-organization collaboration even after the fellowship is finished,” Donnelly said. “The network is everything.”
For more information about the Detroit Revitalization Fellows, visit detroitfellows.wayne.edu.