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$500K Innovation Challenge taps into Detroit’s next generation

The Skillman Foundation, in partnership with the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, launched My Brother’s Keeper Detroit Innovation Challenge to invest $500,000 in programs that seek to empower Detroit’s young men of color.

More than 450 ideas were submitted for the first found of applications due March 21. The 100 most innovative ideas will be selected to move to round two and fill out a more robust application to build out their plan.

David McGhee, program officer with the Skillman Foundation, said a panel of funders, community members and young men of color will use a rubric with guidelines to select the top ideas.

“This is a level playing field for every single idea out there,” said McGhee. “We are looking for unique approaches to solving complex issues.”

Chosen applicants will be given tools to develop their ideas, assemble a team and present it. Each team will have at least two boys or young men of color involved in the development of their program.

From there, 20 teams will be selected to receive $5,000 each to test out their idea for eight weeks. Teams will have access to tools, advisors and technical assistance in the development of their prototype.

The Challenge’s final round will take place during the week of July 11, when six out of the 20 teams will be given up to $50,000 each to expand their ideas. The winning teams will bring their ideas to life with the help of training workshops, technical resources and assistance. The cost of the technical support will be covered by the remaining funds. Pro-bono services such as legal, marketing and graphic design will also be available.

Projects will be showcased to the public at a capstone event in late November.

“The beauty of (the Innovation Challenge) is that we are going to invite other people to the table… donors, investors, funders, entrepreneurs, executives that could be interested in funding a certain idea,” said McGhee.

“This is a radical approach to focus and enhance the assets boys and young men of color in Detroit can bring to their city, rather than deficits they may face,” said Shawn Dove, CEO of Campaign for Black Male Achievement.

On Feb. 27, 2014, President Obama launched My Brother’s Keeper, a focused effort to ensure all African American and Hispanic young men can reach their full potential.

The localization of MBK Detroit was established in December 2014 by Mayor Mike Duggan, Councilman James Tate, former Mayor Dave Bing and Tonya Allen, CEO of the Skillman Foundation.

“Boys and young men of color in Detroit and across the country tend to be highly marginalized … this in turn negatively impacts the families and extended communities they are a part of,” said Dove.

According to 2007-11 U.S. Census, graduation rates for black and Hispanic students fell below those of white students by 16 percent and 12 percent. Twelve percent of Hispanic men and 21 percent of black men obtain a college degree by their late 20s, compared to nearly 40 percent of white men.

“Young men of color are living in a time when they lack hope,” said McGhee. “I don’t think that young people of color lack ability, they may lack access. I don’t think that they lack intellect, they may lack inclusion. When you have hope, you govern yourself differently, and when you have hope, people treat you differently.”

Learn more about the MBK Detroit Innovation Challenge at

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