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Renewing Our Commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are becoming increasingly important to the future of our nation, especially here in Detroit. As our city continues its resurgence, the only way to maintain sustainable growth will be to create an inclusive Detroit where all residents feel connected, included and welcomed in their communities.

While diversity, equity, and inclusion have always been the ethos for The Skillman Foundation, we realize the importance of making our commitment to these values explicit and working to ensure they are realized in every aspect of our work.

In 2017, The Skillman Foundation committed to deepening and documenting our DEI learning journey that started nearly a decade earlier. We did this with an understanding that it would enable our organization and our partners to advance a collective mission to increase opportunities and improve outcomes for Detroit youth. The journey allowed us to explicitly document our long-standing commitment to these values. It has also encouraged us to look at everything we do, both internally and externally, through an equity lens.

The importance of DEI can be seen throughout our Opportunity Agenda for Detroit Children, a strategy that seeks to put equity into action by expanding educational and economic opportunities for Detroit youth. From its inception, the strategy was informed by Robert Putnam’s Our Kids, which highlights the growing opportunity gap that is fueling inequality in our nation. With this equity focus in mind, the Foundation’s current work is guided by asking ourselves: What does equitable opportunity look like and how can it be achieved? The answer leads us to seek out and support programs and ideas that are developmentally appropriate, culturally relevant, holistic, accessible and shaped by youth input. Equity is at the heart of our efforts, from increasing public funding for afterschool programming to decreasing barriers like harsh disciplinary policies in schools.

By engaging other organizations leading in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion, we were able to create an immersive and impactful learning experience for our staff and trustees. Through interactions with leaders like Michael McAfee of PolicyLink and Trabian Shorters of BMe Community, we learned new ways of approaching equity from both strategic and communicative standpoints.

Another essential step in our journey was the development of a DEI policy statement, which explicitly outlined why and how diversity, equity and inclusion will guide the Foundation’s intentions, decisions and actions. The statement went through many iterations, with every member our staff and board of trustees contributing to its creation and careful revision. The end result was a statement that not only captured the importance of DEI to our work as a Foundation, but also highlighted its importance to the well-being of our city and region:

The Skillman Foundation embraces diversity and authentic inclusion in all areas of our work; we consider this a prerequisite for positive social change. As a guiding principle, it impacts our decisions at every level from staffing to partnerships and how our resources are deployed.

We understand that we work in a context defined by inequities that are as present as the air we breathe. Therefore, we must confront the drivers of inequality and redesign systems with those who have been historically marginalized.

We are driven to create a community where all Detroiters – especially youth – are valued, heard and mobilized in the service of opportunity and prosperity for all.

We are now stepping into the next phase on our continuous DEI journey, focused on reflection and application of the principles and concepts outlined thus far. From our internal practices and grantmaking strategy, to our position as a convener and collaborator among individuals and organizations who champion children, we challenge ourselves to embed these principles in every aspect of our mission and work in order to create equitable opportunities for all Detroit youth.

Strengthening our understanding and actions to advance DEI will be ongoing. It requires constant tending and revisiting, knowing that by creating an environment to discuss and practice DEI, we will be better equipped to achieve our mission and operate a highly effective and competitive organization. More importantly, we will help create a more equitable city where opportunity and success are accessible to all members of our community, especially our children.

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