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The Power of New Ideas

Complex challenges require creative solutions. More importantly, they inspire passionate people to dream big and discover innovative ways to make a difference for the communities and causes they care about. To catalyze the growth of opportunity for youth of color in Detroit, the My Brother’s Keeper Detroit Innovation Challenge set out to connect passionate people and creative ideas with the resources they need to create an impact.

Launched in 2016, the Challenge is a call for community members to submit their ideas to create and support opportunity for boys and young men of color in the city. Now in its second edition, the Challenge added a track for ideas focused on girls and young women of color and recently launched six new ideas to benefit Detroit’s youth of color through $50,000 and continued professional support.

But the Challenge is unlike typical grant opportunities. The first-round application consisted of only five questions and could be completed from a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Print copies were also made available for those who needed them. Furthermore, applicants did not need an established 501c3 or previous experience managing a nonprofit to submit an idea.

The application was intentionally designed to invite the widest range of Detroiters possible to submit their ideas and get involved. Where other funding opportunities may require applicants to demonstrate previous experience, provide detailed financial statements or invest a large amount of time into a lengthy grant proposal, the Challenge was meant to be accessible to ideas and communities that may not normally receive an opportunity to apply for funding. Removing some of the barriers that are sometimes present in grantmaking allowed a diverse range of ideas to be submitted, all of which were focused on creating a brighter, opportunity-filled future for Detroit’s young people of color.

“The Challenge definitely gave us a great opportunity since we currently do not have a 501c(3) designation,” said Tony WHLGN, co-founder of the Leaders Amoungst Leaders program. “We were really excited to come across an opportunity that was willing to listen and work with our idea and to help it grow.”

In order for the team’s ideas to have a true impact, they had to be built not only for youth, but with youth. Throughout the prototyping stage, each team worked closely with the young people they served to gain feedback, adjust, and improve their work.

The Lab Drawer

“What surprised us most about the prototyping process were the valuable insights we gained from the young people we worked with,” said Alecia Grabriel, co-founder of The Lab Drawer. “Their suggestions were very impactful and, at times, made us rethink how we viewed our idea.”

For Developing Strong Black Male Educators in Detroit, a collaboration of Black Male Educators Alliance of Michigan and Henry Ford Learning Institute, this also meant incorporating feedback from teachers who are in classrooms interacting with young people on a daily basis.

“Through empathy work and a visioning futures workshop, we were able to get educators thinking about their students and applying their educational expertise and practical experience with youth in new ways,” said Kimberly Watts, a co-founder of the program.

Young people also played a crucial role in the review and selection process at every stage of the Challenge. During the first and second round applications, youth from across the city were engaged to help review applications and determined who advanced to the next round. Tyler Patterson, a senior at Cass Tech and an intern with the The Skillman Foundation Foundation, also served on the final judge panel that helped determine the six finalists to receive $50,000. By integrating youth voice into the fabric of each step in the process, the Challenge ensured that the ideas being developed reflected the real needs of the young people they were intended to serve. It also gave youth a sense of ownership in the process they were working to build.

As a celebration of the hard work of the teams, the MBK Detroit Innovation Expo event shared the incredible work of each team and the young people they worked with and impacted. The evening also showcased several talented young performers who shared their talents with the audience including Imani Nichele, Eldric Laron, DeMaciiio, Rocket(!!!)Man, and Trunino Lowe

From beginning to end, the Challenge also engaged talented Detroit-based vendors and companies that provided outstanding service and helped create an impactful experience for the teams, Foundation staff, and the larger community. Many of the companies engaged were also Black and person of color-owned, including Strategic Community Partners, Porter Media Group, D & G Sound, Kardiak Films, Yum Village and The Bee Agency.

With the six finalists selected, the Challenge looks to help grow these organizations and keep youth engaged along the way. In addition to the $50,000 in funding, each team will also receive continued professional support and workshops to scale their programs and deepen the impact they have on the young people they serve. More importantly, they’ll be a part of a diverse cohort of organizations who have launched their ideas through the Challenge and be able to share insight, resources and connections as they build their organization’s path.

“As the workforce shifts to include newer and younger generations, it’s important to give new voices a platform for change and growth within their communities and the city of Detroit,” said Tony WHLGN.

Over the next several months, all six finalists will continue to grow not only their ideas, but also their roles in creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive city.

Click here to learn more about the six MBK Detroit Innovation Challenge Finalists and their missions to create opportunity for Detroit’s youth of color.

This blog is part of Forward For All, an ongoing monthly series sharing insights from The Skillman Foundation’s diversity, equity and inclusion learnings. Click here to read the first installment in the series.

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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