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Holding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Forefront

It wasn’t long ago that telling an out-of-towner you were from Detroit would raise eyebrows, prompting sympathy or even repugnance. Now, Detroit is all the rage. News about a city on the rise has reached around the country and world. Burgeoning signs of economic opportunity have attracted investors, businesses, entrepreneurs, artists, and young professionals from across the globe, all looking to be a part of the upswing.

We’re in the midst of a critical moment ̶ one that will define our city’s future. Will we become the next “hot” American city by drawing an influx of already well-to-do folks while standing idly by as current residents are displaced and the culture that makes Detroit unique is overwritten? Or will we use this momentum to design a city that re-enlivens the American Dream, becoming a place rich with opportunity and prosperity for all?

To do the latter is not just for the benefit of legacy Detroiters but for the benefit of all Americans. Achieving this vision would make an important economic argument for recognizing all people as important contributors to society, capable of generating wealth not only for themselves but for their community. It would prove the possibility that a thriving, equitable society is possible.

Detroit has a chance to turn the tide on the growing, mutually reinforcing opportunity and prosperity gaps in our country.

The Prosperity Gap

The below illustrate the escalation of economic disparity in America.

Cumulative percent change in real annual wages, by wage group

The Economic Policy Institute notes, “The annual earnings of the top 1 percent had risen 157 percent cumulatively since 1979. For the top 0.1 percent, earnings have grown a whopping 343.2 percent since 1979. In contrast, earnings of the bottom 90 percent of workers rose just 22.2 percent over the same period.”

400 extremely wealthy individuals have as much wealth as all 16 million African-American households and 5 million (one-third of) Latino households.

Furthermore, economic disparity is exacerbated when race and ethnicity are taken into account.

Forbes 400 net worth compared to African-American and Latino households, 2015

A report by the Institute for Policy Studies compared the 2015 Forbes 400 list to the 2013 Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances (a triennial report), finding that the 20 wealthiest Americans owned more wealth that the bottom half of the entire U.S. population (152 million people). It also found that the 400 wealthiest American’s that comprised the Forbes list possessed as much wealth as all 16 million African-American households, combined with 5 million (one-third of) Latino-American households.

With more than a third of households living below the poverty line and the highest percentage of African-Americans by population in the U.S., Detroit must address the prosperity gap.

The Opportunity Gap

Clean air, water, and land. Safe streets. Medical Care. Healthy food. Quality schools. Out-of-school programs like tutoring, sports, and the arts. These create the foundation for a thriving life. They are the things we want ̶ and expect ̶ for ourselves, our children, and our fellow man.

But having them is dependent on your ability to afford to live in the “right” zip code and pay for “extra perks.” We live in a pay to play world. Families with the fewest resources have the fewest resources and opportunities to move ahead.

Without addressing the opportunity gap by expanding opportunities and building systems that benefit all, the middle class will continue to erode, fewer of us will be financially and physically healthy, and fewer of our children will be able to achieve a life as good (let alone better) than ours.

The Imperative of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

As much genius exists among people of color and those living in impoverished communities as anywhere else. We must acknowledge and invest in the potential of all people as important contributors, capable and necessary for enriching our communities and country.

By embracing and leveraging diversity, recognizing equity as the way to raise all boats, and being vigilant about inclusion, we can fuel our industrious spirit and reignite the American dream.

Our DEI Learning Journey

As a place-based children’s foundation in Detroit, we have long held the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as core to our mission. Our vision for a Detroit that primes its children to be leaders and solutionaries requires deep and continued learning and practice of DEI principals as well as sharing this experience with the broad community.

The Skillman Foundation has been working to advance diversity, equity and inclusion inside and outside of our organization for many years. Below is a summation of the learnings from the past year-and-a-half, with links and videos to the content so that you and/or your organization may also share in the learning.

Most Recent DEI Timeline

September 2017

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, speaks with trustees about the importance of deeply understanding DEI issues and the need for philanthropy to transition from charity to social justice.

December 2017

Peter Hammer presents to trustees about how structural and spacial racism plays out in Detroit and how it can be overcome.

The Skillman Foundation selects Global Alliance Solutions to provide additional diversity training to staff.

February 2018

Staff retreat focuses on DEI and culture. Collectively, staff members write a draft of the Foundation’s new DEI statement.

March 2018

Michael McAfee, president of PolicyLink, leads a discussion with staff and trustees on the intersection of youth, race and opportunity

April 2018

The Skillman Foundation adopts a final version of its DEI policy statement.

Global Alliance interviews each staff member to gain understanding of their experiences, challenges, and highest aspirations for the DEI journey

June 2018

Staff and trustees engage in a workshop with Trabian Shorters, CEO of BMe, exploring the power of asset framing.

June – August 2018

Foundation staff work with Global Alliance to create projects that exemplify the DEI statement within their department.

July 2018

Trustee and staff retreat hosted experts from the National Equity Project with a facilitated session focused on creating transformational impact.

December 2018

Trustees hear from a panel of professionals working on equity-centered practices in the public and private sector. Panelists included Kara Wood, director of economic development, City of Grand Rapids; Sean Kershaw, vice president, Wilder Center for Communities; Clotide Perez-Bode Dedecker, president and CEO, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.

What’s Ahead

Our DEI journey doesn’t have an end point. It is an unceasing commitment to work smarter, harder, and more collaboratively in service of Detroit children.

And it’s not all roses. It demands uncomfortable personal reflections and courageous conversations.

The insights we learn from others as well as reflections on our own advances and missteps will be shared through this blog series, Forward For All, in hopes that you will take this journey along with us so that, together, we can forge a more promising future for our city, nation, and people.

This blog is part of Forward For All, an ongoing monthly series sharing insights from The Skillman Foundation’s diversity, equity and inclusion learnings.

The Skillman Foundation

A voice for children since 1960, The Skillman Foundation is a private philanthropy that serves as a fierce champion of Detroit children. The Foundation works to ensure Detroit youth achieve their highest aspirations by strengthening K-12 public education, afterschool learning opportunities, and college and career pathways.

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