Six teams with dreams of creating a business to serve young men of color now have $50,000 to help make them a reality. The teams were chosen from 20 finalists for the My Brother’s Keeper Detroit Innovation Challenge.
The program is a $500,000 Skillman Foundation initiative with the goal of helping young men of color with a good idea, but a need for capital, a foot hold.
“The Challenge presented a level playing field for every idea out there,” says David McGhee, Skillman Foundation program director. “We heard from new leaders with new approaches — and we need every single one of them.”
Developing Despite Distance won an additional $5,000 “People’s Choice Award,” which was voted on by the event’s attendees
Another $50,000 was given by The Mandell and Madeleine Berman Foundation to the program.
“Young black men face unique disparities that prevent too many from reaching their full potential,” says Robert Simmons, vice president of strategy & innovation for the Campaign for Black Male Achievement. “To be a just and prosperous society, we’ve got to find ways to break down these barriers.”
The 14 of the finalists that did not receive the $50,000 are not out of luck. The remaining budget will be used to further support them and help them develop their ideas.
The six projects awarded were:
Culture Creators: Helps young men become leaders, community builders and independent artists by merging arts, activism and entrepreneurship.
Developing Despite Distance: Helps Detroit’s young men of color express complex emotions and connect with their incarcerated parents.
Dream Deferred Project: Works with young adults who have left school and the workplace, reconnecting them in educational and economic opportunities.
Giving Them The Business: A full-service restaurant that teaches young men of color to be owners and operators of restaurants — not just the hired help.
Journi: Addresses the lack of opportunities for Detroit youth to develop tech and entrepreneurial skills.
Our Town: Neighborhood and city tours designed and led by youth from Detroit’s east side.
Jerrell Harris, the creator of Giving Them the Business, says receiving the funds is a “game changer,” allowing him to pursue a brick-and-mortar restaurant. He had prototyped his idea to provide youth with restaurateur business training by borrowing a friend’s food truck.
“If I had the opportunity to receive this kind of training when I was starting in the industry, I would’ve been so much farther along and would’ve been able to pull others along with me a decade earlier,” Harris says.
Kumar Raj, a Skillman Foundation program officer, who worked closely with the teams on the program.
“Our goal was to engage individuals with ideas, inspired by the people they hope to serve, and help them see their vision as fluid, not restricted to their original thinking. By quickly testing their idea, they could evolve their solution based on new learnings,” says Raj.
“Just as teams were prototyping their ideas, we were trying a new process. It didn’t always work the way we thought it would and we made adjustments to the Challenge based on feedback from participants. Like the participating teams, we had to be willing to see where the process would take us. It was important for us to have young men from the city play a role in every aspect of the Challenge, from the initial design and implementation to determining which teams advanced,” he adds.
The goal to continue to build the economic future of Detroit has another ally and has taken another step forward with this program.
The winners of the six major awards, were chosen by these judges: Tonya Allen, president & CEO, The Skillman Foundation; Robert Simmons, vice president of strategy & innovation, Campaign for Black Male Achievement; Dr. Herman Gray, president & CEO, United Way of Southeastern Michigan; Councilman James Tate, Detroit City Council; Sarai Brachman Shoup, executive director, Mandell and Madeleine Berman Foundation; Mario Bueno, president, LUCK Inc.; Shannon Smith, young Detroiter, JP Morgan Chase; and Diego Navarrete, senior at Cass Technical High School.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan opened the event, speaking on the importance of expanding opportunities for Detroit youth.