Introducing The Skillman Visionary Awards

25 black men making Detroit stronger

By now, you’ve likely heard of the new federal initiative called My Brother’s Keeper, which is putting hundreds of millions of dollars into the fight to improve outcomes for boys of color, especially African American boys.

Here at the Foundation, the news was met with cheers and renewed hope.

Hope exists not just because of these new efforts, but because of the work of many who have paved the way for success for these populations. There are scores of people, including many African American males themselves, working to bring positive change to the city.

To celebrate those people, I put together this list. It’s a list of innovators, dreamers and change-makers for boys of color in Detroit. If you’re wondering what’s happening on the ground now or where to plug in to this work, contacting any of these people or their organizations is a good start.

Keith Bennett, Goodwill Industries

Keith is the force behind the Flip the Script program, a job-training program in the Northend Centeral neighborhood that serves men ages 16 to 30 in Detroit or Wayne County. It teaches young men trades like building, construction or green jobs, and it also focuses on training participants in math, reading, relationship development, fatherhood, workplace ethics and more.

Odis Bellinger. Building Better Men

Odis started the Male Responsibility Leadership Program to develop young men ages 7 to 18 to “take charge of their lives.” It deals with personal issues of boys, including many who live in single-parent homes or whom don’t know their fathers at all.

Calvin Colbert, Brothers on Patrol 

Colbert leads Brothers on Patrol, a network of residents in the Cody Rouge neighborhood who patrol routes to school to ensure kids get there safely. Those neighborhood efforts, crime has been reduced as much as 40 percent in some spots.

Bishop Tony Russell and Marcell Copeland, the MAN Network

Since its founding in 2007, the MAN Network, a coalition of men in the Osborn neighborhood, has been dedicated to keeping kids safe as they walk to and from school. Led by Bishop Tony Russell the MAN Network has big goals – to reduce crime by 40 percent and increase male involvement in the community by 80 percent. Copeland is a Detroiter who lost his house to foreclosures, but who has nevertheless found time to volunteer in his neighborhood as a community safety patroller. As Osborn was hit hard by the crisis, Copeland manned the streets with the MAN Network – Maintaining a Neighborhood – where he was later hired.

Raymond and Richard Diggs, Teach for America

These twin brothers from Detroit graduated from high school and attended Wayne State University, then enrolled in Teach for America. Now they’re both giving back to the city they call home, teaching students in Osborn and Cody Rouge.

Dave Gamlin, Midnight Golf

Is the next Tiger Woods a young Detroiter today? If so, Gamlin probably knows him or her. Gamlin runs the Midnight Golf Program, which goes beyond the golf course and intends to prepare young people to build the skills to success in college.

Chris Kyles, Holden Boys and Girls Club

Kyles launched the STARS project at the Holden Boys & Girls Club in the Osborn neighborhood. Now he’s director of the club, which provides a safe place for hundreds of kids to do homework, get tutoring, and experience high-quality youth development activities.

Edmund Lewis, Minority Males for Higher Education

Lewis founded the Minority Males for Higher Education to give young boys in Detroit mentors and access to tools for academic success. He works with more than 100 high school and middle school youth in classrooms and after school.

Frank McGhee

Frank McGhee, Youth Initiative Project

McGhee runs the Youth Initiative Project, an initiative of the Neighborhood Service Organization. It’s a program that provides leadership and advocacy training related to the prevention of violence and substance abuse. The youth decide on what causes to advocate for themselves.

Steven McGhee, Central Collegiate Academy

The Principal at Central Collegiate Academy in the Northend neighborhood has brought EdWorks into his building to create “interest-based academies focused on personalized student achievement.”

William Malcolm, Suit Project

Malcolm, through the BMe Community, launched the Man of Style & Substance Scholarship Contest, which awards scholarships to students based on educational achievements and community activism, and the Suit Project, which provides life-skills mentoring, interview preparations and clothing to young men.

Johnathon Matthews, Cody High School Academy of Public Leadership

Cody High School used to be called a “Drop-out Factory.” That’s changed. The school is now actually three small schools. Johnathon Mattews is principal of the Cody High School Academy of Public Leadership stressed personal relationships and last spring, graduated 98 kids.

DeQuan O’Neal, student

This young man is a nationally-recognized leader in the Osborn neighborhood, where he advocates for safe routes for kids to take to school and urges other young men to avoid the pitfalls of gang life. Hear him talk about this work on WDET.

Marcell Payton, student

Payton is an example of the impact of others’ on this list, including McGhee. Once involved with gangs, Marcell now has a 3.5 GPA at Osborn Evergreen Academy of Design, Technology & Alternative Energy and is leading work against gun violence in his community.

Shaka Senghour, writer and activist

Senghour experienced a troubled childhood growing up in Detroit. Eventually he began selling drugs, and he later spent 19 years in prison for murdering another young man. While imprisoned, Senghour worked through his issues through writing. He now mentors youth in leadership, making good choices and writing to deal with the pains associated with poverty and a culture of violence.

Larry Simmons, Brightmoor Pastor’s Alliance

Pastor Simmons leads the influential Brightmoor Pastor’s Alliance, which spearheaded an effort to get kids to be “Present in Brightmoor.” It pushed kids to value solid school attendance and for parents to ensure kids were in class every day.

Charles Small, Don Bosco Hall

Small is actually huge to the Cody Rouge neighborhood. He runs the Don Bosco Hall Community Resource Center, a hub in the neighborhood where youth can drop in and find all sorts of activities to participate in.

Michael Reynolds and Trevon Stapleton, Youth Voice 

These two are co-presidents of YOUTH VOICE, which works to bring attention to what youth have to say about issues that impact them, including closing the school-to-prison pipeline.

Dennis Talbert, Brightmoor Community Center

Talbert led the Brightmoor Community Center away from the brink of shutting down last year, and he is now the acting director of the center. A longtime fixture in the Brightmoor neighborhood, Talbert is dedicated to building a center that can be a landing place and hub for the community’s kids.

Gregory Thomas, student

A student at Osborn Academy of Mathematics and Technology, Gregory has worked to rid his neighborhood of blight, leading a blight awareness march that stressed cleaning-up and boarding up abandoned houses. He’s also the president of the Youth Violence Prevention Team in Osborn.

Terry Whitfield, Youth Development Alliance

Whitfield works with Southwest Solutions in Southwest Detroit, where the population includes large numbers of African-American as well as Latino youth. He is one lead on the Youth Development Alliance, a 90-plus membership organization that works to bring quality and scale to youth development programming in Detroit.

Jason Wilson, Cave of Adullam

Wilson runs a Biblically-based martial arts practice called the Cave of Adullam that trains them to “walk the path of righteousness.” Its purpose is to teach boys to not use violence to solve problems, but to fight them with the spirit.

This is just a small piece of the full picture of what’s happening in Detroit. If you know someone doing great work to improve outcomes for African American and Latino boys, share it with us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Use hashtag #KidsMatterHere, and we will be sure to share!

Comments (2)

Leave your Response
  • Diane Albertson - http://online

    Hi, my name is Diane I have a 5 year old son. I’m wanting a mentor for him,to show a man is suppose to be. He’s craving the male presence. Please message me when you get a minute.


    • NFotias

      Hi, Diane: Many of our partners may be able to provide the mentorship your son needs. We would recommend checking out some of our partners here. Best of luck in your journey!

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *