Introducing The Skillman Visionary Awards

A new season for The Skillman Foundation

On December 23, 1960, Rose Pilhashy Skillman founded The Skillman Foundation with $60,000. 

Today marks our 60th anniversary; six decades of service to local children. Over our history, we have granted nearly $670 million and have grown our endowment to $500 million to serve children into perpetuity. That is the power of endowed philanthropy—to be able to hold long-term commitments and make generational impact.   

Tonya Allen

The Skillman Foundation has been led by a line of powerful leaders. In 2021, it will have a new one at the helm. As announced earlier this month, I will be departing in mid-February after 16 years of service to the Foundation. As of March 1, I will lead the McKnight Foundation as it aims to address this generation’s most complex challenges, specifically by advancing racial equity. My heart belongs to Detroit and its children, but I feel a calling and must act.  

I leave the Foundation in the capable hands of our team and board of trustees. They will continue to be fierce advocates for Detroit children, alongside our grant partners and the city’s deep network of committed and talented leaders.  

And together, you will take advantage of new beginnings and a new season for change. 

2020: A year of disruption 

2020 has been world-changing and paradigm-shifting. Words are impossible to capture what we have experienced as humans, Americans, Michiganders, and Detroiters. Here is a try: Impeachment hearing. Essential workers. Overflowing hospitals. Pots banging. Pandemic rage. School closings. N-95 masks. Remote learning. Armed protests. Record-high unemployment. Eight minutes and forty-six seconds. Racial reckoning. Mass protests. Economic stops and starts. Divisive politics. Kidnapping plot. 159 million votes. Recount. Joe and Kamala. 18 million plus cases. Three hundred and twenty-five thousand U.S. deaths. Vaccine dissemination. Social change. Disruption. Opportunity.  

The compounding events of 2020 have created immense disruption. And with disruption comes hidden opportunity. Opportunity to modernize our antiquated education system, which doesn’t serve all children well and delivers disparate results that limits possibilities, traps innovation, and undermines our economy. Opportunity to grow our economy with respected, humane, and livable work that opens economic mobility and increases household income. Opportunity to realize American rights to an education, to vote and have it counted, to own property, to equal employment, and equal protection under the law by its officers for every black and brown citizen. 

Disruption in 2020 reminds us that the world can change. The last twelve months have proven this to be true. Amid crises, power is leveraged and rules are rewritten. The challenge before us is to rewrite the rules in 2021 to create abundant opportunities for young people to learn and lead, and to advance racial equity.  

2021: A year for reinvention 

While 2020 brought the term “social distancing” to our lexicon, we have been isolated from one another far before COVID-19. We have fixated on individualism at the expense of the collective. We must turn our sights outward to acknowledge our shared fate. Let’s harness the spirit of reinvention that the new year brings and work together to imagine and build a society that we can all benefit from and where everyone is capable of prospering. 

And 2021 is the time to do it. Reinvention or innovation follows disruption. We must capture the moment and advance our agenda for children and society—to create a better world. Maggie Smith writes in her poem, the Future, that “the trick of the future is that it’s empty, a cup before you pour the water. The future is a waiting cup. And for all it knows, you will fill it with milk instead.” 

Let our cups run over with whatever we choose—water, milk, Faygo, or juiced greens. The future isn’t finished, and we can co-create it.    

I will share this passage from activist and author Arundhati Roy whose words powerfully capture the spirit and magnitude of the possibility before us:  

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks, and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smokey skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”  

I can depart Detroit and The Skillman Foundation knowing that I leave them in good hands—people who are fighting for equity, fighting for children, and fighting for a better future. I will watch and cheer from afar, and feel that familiar Detroit pride swell, as this community continues to champion its most precious asset—its children.  

With love, 

Tonya Allen 

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