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A Letter to Detroit Youth

What up doe? I see you, Detroit youth. From the east side to the west side, your light shines. Your grind is admirable. Your swagger is in a league of its own. You are humble. You are brash. You are beautiful. You are tough. And so much more…

I have watched you navigate the challenges within our city and our neighborhoods, and I see your strength, your virtue, and your resilience.

And that’s just part of your greatness.

I love the way you look out for and protect your sisters, brothers and cousins, and how you help when you see someone in need. All of this shows how Detroit is home to the strongest and big-hearted young people on earth.

This is who you are. This is what I see.

As Detroit recovers, it is your birthright to be at the forefront of its transformation. The world is watching our city, our home. People are paying attention. And what I want most is that they pay attention to you.

When you speak up, and speak clearly and with focus, you’ll find incredible things will happen.

Adults may be telling the story of Detroit today, but tomorrow—and I do mean tomorrow, not a distant day, but very, very soon—the youth of this city will own the story of Detroit. In fact, you’re writing it right now. Claim it. Drive it. Let your voice be heard and your vision for our city be embraced.

When you speak up, and speak clearly and with focus, you’ll find incredible things will happen. Others will step back so you can step forward to give your voice residence and power. You will be the change agents our city is waiting for.

Take a moment and look at yourselves. You are already leading. People like Alondra Alvarez (Western International High School graduate, class of 2018), who used her voice to help lead local and national gun violence protests. And Imani Harris (Renaissance High School graduate, class of 2018), who spoke her truth and desire for better city schools in newspapers and on national airwaves. These influencers gained the attention of our city, state, nation and world by delivering firsthand insights on issues that affect young people in Detroit. You can do the same.

Alondra and Imani’s activism are testaments to what you are all capable of achieving. They are only two examples; there are so many more of you making amazing contributions. Your great works and accomplishments are proof of what Detroit looks like when we invest in you.

So walk in courage. Hold your head high. Be seen and heard. Challenge the things around you and say, “This isn’t working. What if we did it a new way, our way, a Detroit way?”

There will be some who will try to sway your ideas and silence your voice. There will be some who won’t understand your point of view and say you are too young. Don’t let them dissuade you, keep driving forward with conviction. Say loudly, “I belong here.” Because you do.

With young people at the forefront, Detroit can be a city where everyone belongs and has a chance to be their best. This city can be “opportunity lit,” where you can have access to the best schools, the best programs, and benevolent adults who are all working to make sure you achieve your dreams.

You can add so much power to the revival that is happening in the city right now. Bring new ideas to life. Listen to your friends as well as to the quiet kid in the back of the classroom. Build on one another’s inspirations. Because it’s diversity of thought that opens the gate to smart solutions. And Detroit is in need of smart solutions. You have them. The next big idea is a seed inside of you.

You are the new wave of technology trailblazers, policy makers and changers, global activists, renowned dancers, musicians, and artists.

This is your city. And I am listening to you. I hear you. Every day. Whenever The Skillman Foundation sets to work on an issue, it is because you have said it matters to you.

More than anything, I hear you say, “I love Detroit. I just want it to love me back.”

As adults, it is our responsibility and our privilege to love you back. And we are going to scrap the lip service and prove it with action.

Detroit is in need of smart solutions. You have them. The next big idea is a seed inside of you.

With your vision and determination, with all you have done and what you have overcome, I don’t think there is any stopping you. I am amazed by what I see. I am joyful because of what I see. I am full of hope because of all I see. I see you. And you make me proud.

With Love,
Tonya Allen
Cass Technical High School graduate

Comments (6)

Leave your Response
  • Marseille

    Love this, Tonya! Thank you for all you do!

  • Alicia Blackmon

    An Awsome message for all ! The youth are rising up and speaking Truth to Power!! Thankyou Tanya and the Skillman foundation for giving them the light they need to shine in a city they call home.

  • Monica Alvarez

    Thank you Tonya!! Beautiful words from a beautiful lady!! You are such an inspiration and you continue to motivate our young people!!

  • Bruce Ross

    Beautiful and inspiring message for all. We need to take heed and all do our part!

  • Beautiful message! Thank you for encouraging our youth to speak up , inspire and make a difference💞

  • Tonya, beautiful message! Thank you for encouraging our youth to speak up, for giving them the platform to inspire and make a difference💞

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