Randy McNeil loved Detroit and its residents, especially its young people. He wanted the best for them so he helped renovate parks and recreation centers, mentored hundreds of youth development leaders and dozens of youth organizations and helped thousands of young people find summer jobs.
McNeil died on Monday, Feb. 8, just short of his 67th birthday. The loss is felt throughout Detroit, especially among the young people he’s mentored and the organizations he’s led.
He was involved with ARISE Detroit! from its beginning 10 years ago. He saw the benefits such an organization could bring to transforming Detroit’s neighborhoods and making them a safe, comfortable, energizing place for the city’s children. He gambled on the idea and helped founder Luther Keith move his idea forward.
As chairman of the ARISE Detroit! board, he demanded big ideas from the organization. Always energized, he didn’t just demand the big ideas, he was part of them. At one point he donated $2,000 to buy lawnmowers to groups ready to cut down the overgrowth in some neighborhoods.
When Keith approached him about putting an ARISE Detroit! t-shirt on the Spirit of Detroit statue to celebrate the organization’s Neighborhoods Day, he loved the big idea and was all in, grinning from ear to ear when it was announced to the board.
“Randy McNeil was a champion for the children and residents of Detroit,” says Keith, executive director of ARISE Detroit!. “He worked tirelessly to make a difference, and he did make a difference in the lives he touched and the changes that he was able to make as a community leader. We must honor his legacy by continuing his work to create a better community. Randy was a great leader, smart, visionary and bold. Because of his leadership, ARISE Detroit! is in a strong position to move forward, guided by the foundation Randy helped build.”
“I had only known Randy for two years and in that time I was impressed by his commitment, passion and dedication to ARISE Detroit!,” says board member Ron Wood, vice president, small group underwriting and underwriting operations at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “His leadership as our chair will truly be missed, along with the friendship that we developed over our two year window of involvement. I am deeply saddened with Randy’s passing and my prayers go out to his family. He was one of the good guys!!!”
“Randy McNeil was many things to Detroit. And, although he did not seek the spotlight, he shined a bright light on community issues behind the scenes at ARISE Detroit!, says board member Jackie Berg, founder and publisher of the magazine TheHUB. “Every board, corporate and community leader who met Randy liked and respected him. This man knew and loved Detroit. An eternal optimist and educator, Randy guided our organization through the many trials and tribulations common to us all. He was resilient and through his example taught us all to be the same. Randy McNeil and his life’s accomplishments should be proudly remembered. He was a man who served Detroit – beautifully.”
“Randy McNeil was a gentle person who loved ARISE! Detroit with a great passion,” says another board member Sandy Hermanoff, president of Hermanoff Public Relations. “I will never forget when he called me a few months ago to determine on which committee I would like to serve. He had a hard time talking, but his leadership, dedication and commitment came though loud and clear. He will be missed, and all of us will miss his warm, genuine personality at our meetings. I know he will be there in spirit at our 10th Anniversary (Neighborhoods Day) celebration.”
McNeil also founded the Youth Sports and Recreation Commission, which became the Youth Development Commission (YDC) in 1995 as an initiative of the Skillman Foundation. It offers in-school support at more than 30 schools in the Detroit area and helps prepare students for college, and life.
True to McNeil’s passion for giving back, YDC encourages these young people to volunteer and serve the community. Last year 60 young men of color transformed the look and feel of four Detroit neighborhoods as part of a paid work experience sponsored by JPMorgan Chase.
“With the passing of Randy McNeil, Detroit has lost a true champion for youth development,” says Rainy Hamilton Jr., board chair of the Youth Development Commission and president of Hamilton Anderson Associates.
McNeil will be truly missed. “It is my prayer that the family finds a measure of comfort and strength in knowing that we share in the grief and loss of our dearly departed Randy McNeil. God bless you, God keep you in His care,” says board member Pastor Annie Adams.
McNeil is survived by his wife Jacqueline, son Matthew and daughter Jennifer.
SERVICES FOR RANDY MCNEIL
Visitation: Sunday, February 14, O.H. Pye Funeral Home, 17600 Plymouth Rd., Detroit, MI 48227, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Funeral Service: Monday, February 15, Friendship Baptist Church, 3900 Beaubien St., Detroit, MI 48201, Family Hour: 12:00 p.m.: Services, 12:30 p.m.
– Writer’s note: I also serve as a member of the ARISE Detroit! board