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Organizational Learning

Supporting Detroit’s Black-Led Nonprofits

At the onset of the pandemic, Detroit’s nonprofit ecosystem stepped up to provide needed resources to children, youth, and families across our community, many doing so without the promise of additional funding support. Their only aim was to make good on the promise they made to serve their community.

Terry Whitfield (top left) hosts a virtual conversation with Nicole Wilson (top right), Shawn H. Wilson (bottom left), and Allandra Bulger (bottom right).

Hosted by The Skillman Foundation, the most recent “Let’s Talk” conversation spotlighted the racial reckoning that is happening within Detroit’s nonprofit ecosystem. I had the honor of moderating this chat with three giants in nonprofit leadership: Allandra Bulger of Co.act Detroit, Nicole Wilson of The Yunion and Black Executive Director Alliance of Detroit, and Shawn H. Wilson of Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan. They discussed their professional journeys and experiences as nonprofit leaders and offered insights about supports that have been essential as well as those that have been sorely missed. They spoke to the challenges and inequities they see in nonprofit funding and leadership development and proposed ways to close the opportunity gaps.

What resonated throughout the conversation were the items these leaders lifted as items that impacted their trajectory as BIPOC nonprofit leaders in Detroit, serving up the main course of what matters in leadership.

Impact Matters

Shawn spoke about the never-ending chase for impact and the role impact plays in the decision-making and vision he puts forth throughout his organization. Access to the resources and supports that allow nonprofits to document, track, and tell a coherent, data-based story is key to the case making needed to attract and retain funding. He noted that impact data must go beyond the quantitative and capture the individual stories that add detail to the numbers. Personal stories of change and triumph humanize and bring meaning to big-picture statistics. For Detroit’s nonprofit community, keeping our collective focus on the prize—real and meaningful change for individuals and the whole—is critical.

Humility Matters

Nicole spoke to the importance of leaders maintaining a sense of humility in their work, stating that the measurement of leadership is a person’s ability to effectively navigate when to lead and when to follow. To help more BIPOC leaders grow in these skills, more consistent, accessible, high-quality professional development opportunities are needed.

Representation Matters

Allandra spoke to the need for a more connected, resilient ecosystem that centers its supports, resources, and opportunities to benefit BIPOC-led organizations. The issues that these organizations have traditionally faced have been exacerbated by the pandemic. While funding continues to be crucial for the livelihood of nonprofits, the need for relevant and real-time capacity-building supports, staff development opportunities, and carefully curated spaces that meet the professional and personal needs of BIPOC leaders are critical for these organizations’ long-term sustainability and their impact on the lives of the children, youth, and families they serve.

In a city with a population that is over 80% people of color, the nonprofit sector must reflect the population they serve. From the front-line staff to management to leadership, supporting professional and personal development for the current crop of BIPOC leaders and strengthening the pathways to leadership for new candidates to gain the experience and connections required to effectively lead in this space, is critical.  

The need to invest in the personal and professional development of minority non-profit leaders continues to be a significant need across Detroit’s youth-serving eco-system.  These organizations provide safe spaces with caring adults that support youth in the development of the necessary skills, knowledge, and experiences required for life success, now and in the future.  By investing in these leaders of color, we increase their influence on their staff, the families of the students they serve, and the community the organization serves and supports.  The time is now to invest in these leaders, to ensure our youth examples that look like them, and maintain a line of sight to what’s possible when you dedicate your life to the community you love. 

Minority-led nonprofits are a critical part of the Detroit youth-serving ecosystem. Whether they provide supports and resources to five, five hundred, or five thousand young people, the Black and Brown leaders of Detroit are integral to the personal and professional development of Detroit’s children

Watch the full conversation below and share your thoughts in the comments.

Terry Whitfield

Strategy lead for afterschool, including advisory support to other afterschool efforts. Focus areas include afterschool programming, community organizing, and family supports

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