Introducing The Skillman Visionary Awards
College and Career Pathways, K-12 Education

How are the Children?

The following was originally published as an Op-Ed in the Detroit Free Press on Sunday, March 4 2018. You can view the original version here.

“And how are the children?” It is the greeting that Maasai tribe warriors used to greet each other. It is still the traditional greeting among the Maasai, which acknowledges the high value they place on the well-being of children.

The proper response is “all the children are well,” which means peace and safety prevail and the least powerful among them — the children — are good. If children are good, life is good. Essentially, this response means our struggles should not ever overshadow the importance of taking care of our young, our future.

The Skillman Foundation is committed to making this greeting the mantra for the city of Detroit. It is our hope that if we, the civic sector, work together, we will be able to reply with honesty that “all of the children are well.” We want to improve the educational and economic opportunities for youth and ensure they have equitable opportunity to benefit from and influence Detroit’s resurgence.

We are clear that talent is distributed equally, but that opportunity is not. Untapped and underestimated talent resides in every zip code. This is why, as a city, we must work diligently to increase opportunities and make them accessible to all children. This imperative is so important that it cannot be done by chance, but by intentionality.  Intentionality is deliberate. We must understand how children are faring today and set our hopes for their future. We must articulate the gap between our current state and our ambition. To do so will require timely and accessible data.

To this end, we have partnered with Data Driven Detroit to launch the “State of the Detroit Child,” an online tool that captures data from multiple sources to inform us all on how children are faring in Detroit and statewide.

The data is not pretty. It reveals that more than half of Detroit children live in poverty. And while children across the state are faring better on whole, one in five Michigan children are growing up below the poverty line. Importantly, we are not sharing the data for the purpose of gawking at our problems — a common practice in our city. Data informs us. It should not define us. We share it to provide a baseline and an inspiration to improve.

Intentionality is also directional. We must set a path and align our actions accordingly. Preparation today can ensure our city has the rich talent base needed to attract or create the next “Amazon” opportunity. Talent development must start with our children — those who are Detroit-born and bred. Intentional means that we see the future and that we build pipelines, pathways, and bridges for children to get there. This is our key to creating an inclusive recovery for Detroit. While these actions will economically and socially benefit our city, we must carry them out first and foremost from a position of love.

Yes, love. The most powerful action word of them all.

So Detroit, “How are the children?” Honestly, not so good. But we can change this by grounding our decisions and action in intention and love. Detroit is courageous, talented, resilient, unstoppable and world-changing … and so are our children. Let’s give them the opportunity to “move the world.”

Tonya Allen is president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation. View data on the State of the Detroit Child at

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