Introducing The Skillman Visionary Awards

President’s Letter: The Skillman Visionary Awards

Today, we launch the Skillman Visionary Awards, recognizing 10 education changemakers with a $50,000 individual award and celebrating the future they’re building for students of today and tomorrow.

Who is a Skillman Visionary?
At The Skillman Foundation, we say there is the job and then there is the work. Visionaries do more than a job. Visionaries love Detroit youth fiercely. They want youth to be the designers of their own destiny. Visionaries know that there are interlocking systems that are preventing this, so they work every day to bend and shift those systems to work for youth instead. Visionaries use their voice, platform, and creativity to ensure that when they are no longer on the job, their work has made a difference. 

The Skillman Foundation wants visionary education leaders to know that we see them and that many others do, too. In Detroit, there will always be some opposition and some naysayers. But visionaries don’t let that stop them.

Visionaries are stars. And they aren’t alone—they are among a constellation. This inaugural year of Visionary Awardees are just a fraction of those who are transforming education. They are exceptional, but not the exception. And at The Skillman Foundation, we are gearing up to ensure many are recognized. (Yes, we are already deep into planning year two.)

We thank the leaders recognized today for bravely being the first.

2024 Skillman Visionary Awardees: (listed from rear left to front right)
Dr. Nikolai Vitti, Rev. Larry Simmons, Sherisse Butler, Jenell Mansfield, Marisol Bien Teachworth Walton, Dawn Wilson-Clark, Juanita Zuniga, Silver Moore, Jerjuan Howard, Dr. Sirrita Darby

Get to know the 2024 Skillman Visionaries here.

We marvel at the brightness of individual stars, but we make meaning out of the constellation.

Notice that the work of education systems change spans generations, roles, and approaches. Some visionaries work inside community-rooted organizations, some work directly on public policy, some work on afterschool systems change, and some work inside school systems. Each is critical to get to what we collectively dream is possible for young people.

Transforming the education system is possible—and it is already underway here in Detroit. The secret sauce will be working together across ideas and differences for the future we all want for our kids.

What is the genesis of the Skillman Visionary Awards?

When I joined The Skillman Foundation in 2021 as a new president & CEO, we, as an organization-wide team, spent a year listening to what leaders in the field working with and for youth need from philanthropy. We were told to go bigger, be bolder, work on root causes, and do things philanthropy doesn’t often do. Trust people. Move capital differently. Invest in people, and in policy change. We took this to heart and baked this into building on our past work at the Foundation.

This year, you will hear about People Powered Educationthe name of The Skillman Foundation’s strategy that reflects our past, our community’s input, and our dreams of the future.

We envision a Detroit where young people engage in and activate the city from classroom to afterschool program, urban garden to art space, from local business to local library, greenway park to athletic field. Detroit will be a place where young people thrive, families stay for generations, and neighborhoods feel like electric campuses where folks of all ages thrive. 

Our focus is keenly placed on the express lane into an equitable future—our public education system. We aim to collectively reinvent education so it is innovative, customized, culturally competent, nourishing, and reflective of who we are today while building our adaptive muscle for what will come tomorrow. 

To get there, we are leaning into our superpowers – we have capital, we have connections, and we can help build a positive narrative. For over 60 years, the Foundation has linked arms with youth, educators, parents, policymakers, afterschool providers, and social impact investors to be our guides and travel mates.

At the Foundation, we know our lane; it is a merging lane that leads to an expressway. We can bring many folks together to travel faster and get farther.

We are placing a bet on Detroiters and on root cause work. We believe young people, families, educators, afterschool providers, and organizers are brilliant visionaries who live every day in the education system and so are best equipped to redesign it. We are also placing a bet that thoughtful policy movers who are trying to make meaningful change want to work closely with those most proximate to get something big done.

People Powered Education taps into community brilliance and connects to education policymaking for long-term sustainable change.

The Skillman Visionary Awards kicks off our People Powered Education strategy. We hope you’ll stay connected with us, dreaming with us, and building with us to give every child an education that nurtures their wonder and brilliance.

Angelique Power

Angelique Power is the president and CEO of The Skillman Foundation.

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