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Five actions for a stronger Detroit

We believe that action and change must be rooted in the community. That’s why holding conversations with residents, youth and our partners is central to our work. These conversations come in many forms, including talking to youth in neighborhood parks and recreation centers, and our upcoming teacher listening sessions.

Spirit of Detroit

Over the last two months, we held focus groups that allowed us to hear from Detroiters. We heard about residents’ experiences, ideas and hopes for the city and its children. We came away from each conversation inspired and reassured that our city has no shortage of talent, commitment or passion.

These discussions, which were at once insightful, sobering and encouraging, contribute to our perspective of Detroit and help to inform our strategies to best help Detroit youth thrive. Below, we share a synthesis of our main takeaways.

Five Actions for a Stronger Detroit

Be grounded in harsh realities, but never accepting of them 

There is no doubt that the children, families and organizations in Detroit are tough. However, having the persistence and strength to face challenging conditions doesn’t mean the conditions are acceptable. Many children in Detroit face instability in their homes, schools and neighborhoods. As a result, a high percentage of both youth and adults in the city experience toxic levels of sustained stress and trauma. They have the highest hurdles to jump, and the fewest supports.

We all want Detroit kids to have the skills and opportunities to become successful adults in a rapidly evolving world. Yet before we can expect them to develop these skills, we must teach them to read, and in order to teach them to read we must make sure they are physically and mentally safe and healthy. We cannot keep calm and carry on. Instead we must use our outrage as motivation to come together to create conditions in which all Detroiters can thrive.

Embrace the complexities that make Detroit unique and strong

The challenges faced in Detroit are complex and often overwhelming. Sometimes it easier to simplify the situation into separating its inhabitants into new versus old Detroit, black versus white, young versus old. This misunderstands the totality of Detroit and what its population has to offer. How could we instead celebrate the unique identities of the many communities within Detroit, while at the same time reach across communities to create an interconnected web of Detroiters committed to a unified, vibrant and equitable city? We must focus on our assets, not our deficits, and remember that our greatest asset of all is our youth. 

Democratize quality information through demand and access

A lack of accessible, quality information make Detroit a challenging place to navigate. In the absences of centralized information hubs, a patchwork of incomplete and makeshift substitutes have sprung up. Families are left to rely on word-of-mouth information to make important decisions on schools, programs and resources. How might people’s lives be different if they could easily find the resources they needed? More transparency would increase the quality of services, and more access would promote the integration of individuals and communities.

Learn from Detroit’s rich history to inform today’s decisions and prepare tomorrow’s leaders

Detroit has a rich history of activism and civic leadership but many Detroiters aren’t old enough to have a memory of it. In some parts of our city, our muscle for constructive civil discourse has atrophied, leaving many adults and youth feeling frustrated, voiceless and powerless. How do we support Detroiters in raising their voices? How do we harness the power of communities to catalyze change? Remembering all we’ve accomplished as a city could help shine light on the path forward. At the same time, we must respect and cultivate youth’s authentic voice so they can contribute and rise as leaders.

Act as a collective

There are many, many individuals and organizations working to make a difference. But we all know that the greatest progress is seen when we collaborate, focusing our efforts on our collective priorities.


As you reflect on the change you want to make in the new year, we urge you to think about how you may improve your community. Not sure where to start? Start with listening to the needs and ideas of the community!

Thanks to Black Family Development Inc, ACCESS, Achievement Network, Citizens Detroit and Wayne State University College of Education for organizing and hosting the listening sessions.

Siobhan O'Laoire

Supports the Education impact area

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