Introducing The Skillman Visionary Awards
College and Career Pathways

Six innovative ideas to support Detroit’s young men of color receive $50,000 each to launch

On Tuesday, September 27, six teams were awarded $50,000 each to launch programs serving young men of color in Detroit. The teams were among 20 finalists of the My Brother’s Keeper Detroit Innovation Challenge, a $500,000 initiative organized by this Skillman Foundation and Campaign for Black Male Achievement to improve life outcomes for black and brown boys. The Mandell and Madeleine Berman Foundation contributed an additional $50,000 to support a winning team.

“The Challenge presented a level playing field for every idea out there,” said David McGhee, Skillman Foundation program director. “We heard from new leaders with new approaches — and we need every single one of them.”

“Young black men face unique disparities that prevent too many from reaching their full potential,” said Robert Simmons, vice president of strategy & innovation for the Campaign for Black Male Achievement. “To be a just and prosperous society, we’ve got to find ways to break down these barriers.”

The six projects awarded were:

Culture Creators: Helps young men become leaders, community builders and independent artists by merging arts, activism and entrepreneurship.

Developing Despite Distance: Helps Detroit’s young men of color express complex emotions and connect with their incarcerated parents.

Dream Deferred Project: Works with young adults who have left school and the workplace, reconnecting them in educational and economic opportunities.


Giving Them The Business: A full-service restaurant that teaches young men of color to be owners and operators of restaurants — not just the hired help.

Journi: Addresses the lack of opportunities for Detroit youth to develop tech and entrepreneurial skills.

Our Town: Neighborhood and city tours designed and led by youth from Detroit’s east side.

Jerrell Harris, the creator of Giving Them the Business said receiving the funds is a “game changer,” allowing him to pursue a brick-and-mortar restaurant. He had prototyped his idea to provide youth with restaurateur business training by borrowing a friend’s food truck.

“If I had the opportunity to receive this kind of training when I was starting in the industry, I would’ve been so much farther along and would’ve been able to pull others along with me a decade earlier,” Harris said.

Developing Despite Distance won an additional $5,000 “People’s Choice Award,” voted on by the event’s attendees. The six primary awards were chosen by a panel of judges, comprised of: Tonya Allen, president & CEO, The Skillman Foundation; Robert Simmons, vice president of strategy & innovation, Campaign for Black Male Achievement; Dr. Herman Gray, president & CEO, United Way of Southeastern Michigan; Councilman James Tate, Detroit City Council; Sarai Brachman Shoup, executive director, Mandell and Madeleine Berman Foundation; Mario Bueno, president, LUCK Inc.; Shannon Smith, young Detroiter, JP Morgan Chase; and Diego Navarrete, senior at Cass Technical High School. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan opened the event, speaking on the importance of expanding opportunities for Detroit youth.

Skillman Foundation Program Officer Kumar Raj was responsible for designing and managing the Challenge. He worked closely with teams to help them develop their ideas.

“Our goal was to engage individuals with ideas, inspired by the people they hope to serve, and help them see their vision as fluid, not restricted to their original thinking. By quickly testing their idea, they could evolve their solution based on new learnings,” said Raj.

“Just as teams were prototyping their ideas, we were trying a new process. It didn’t always work the way we thought it would and we made adjustments to the Challenge based on feedback from participants. Like the participating teams, we had to be willing to see where the process would take us. It was important for us to have young men from the city play a role in every aspect of the Challenge, from the initial design and implementation to determining which teams advanced,” he added.

“We’ve engaged young men from the city of Detroit in every step of the Challenge,” said Skillman Foundation Sr. Program Officer Robert Thornton. “Their intellect and ingenuity is a tremendous resource that must be invested in for our city and country to move forward.”


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