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As 2022 ends, we transition to the new

Reflecting on the past year, I’m filled with joy and optimism. At The Skillman Foundation, we granted out more dollars than ever before in our 62-year history—over $22M across 443 grants. We improved how we show up as partner, as reflected in this year’s grant partner survey. We met with and learned from hundreds of Detroit youth and their adult advocates, including through our Listening Tour. We conducted a Racial Equity Audit of our practices and are operationalizing internal change accordingly. We funded youth-led wellness projects. Our President’s Youth Council directed $310,000 in grant funding. And so much more.  

But the highest pride I feel is through associations with our grant and community partners who walk alongside children and youth in their educational journeys, support young people to aspire and lead, organize community coalitions to affect change, produce research that moves policy makers to act… there is so much, and so many, to be proud of in Detroit.  

Punita Dani Thurman, vice president of program and strategy, in a listening session with youth from American Indian Health and Family Services.

We have learned a lot by listening as well as from reflecting on our past. This has helped us understand what’s most important and where we can best contribute. We are committed to bring the best of who The Skillman Foundation has been and improving ourselves each day to be responsible to Detroit kids.   

Students, educators, and Detroiters at-large have been calling for wholesale education systems change for decades. The steadfast calls-to-action to city and state leaders, and the constant flow of community polls and surveys that reinforce the demand for more investment in children. Who is listening? Who feels accountable to listen and attend to what young people, educators, and families say is really needed?  

At The Skillman Foundation, we are developing a new framework for our grantmaking and changemaking that invests in the power of Detroit youth, educators, and community and works to ensure their voices are centered in education policy and decision making.  
 
People and Systems. That’s the shorthand of The Skillman Foundation’s evolving organizational strategy.
 
It builds on our past work in Good Neighborhoods where we embedded deeply in Detroit’s communities. Being a thoughtful, trusted partner offered us deep insight into how neighborhoods work, what communities need, and ensured that solutions were community grown and embraced.  

Bending the arc of history toward justice over time requires systems change. The Skillman Foundation might be able to help some children lift their academic scores for a short period, but if we want to contribute to the vision that Detroit youth are supported to be the designers of bold destinies, then we must ensure the education system is equitable, meaning those that need the most receive it.  

How will our education system change to be more equitable, more stable and supportive, and deliver the outcomes Detroit kids are capable and deserving of? It’s not enough fill the gaps and put Band-Aids on an education system that, quite honestly, was never designed to ensure that all kids excel—including the brilliant Black and Brown children of Detroit. We believe this kind of transformative systems change is an inside/outside game. That community–young people, educators, youth providers and champions—must be centered and connected to the work of policy analysts and policymakers, business leaders, and other civic actors. 

Beginning in 2023, The Skillman Foundation’s work and our team will be organized around two areas to support equitable education systems: 

  • Ground Building: Investing in the power of Detroit youth, educators, and other community members who support young people to design and influence change 
  • Systems & Policy: Shifting policy and resource allocation to benefit Detroit kids 

And we will have team members specifically focused on Strategic Initiatives—which include our President’s Youth Council and other civic and community partnerships and coalitions. 

You’ll also see our job titles change, doing away with the traditional philanthropic use of “officer” and moving to “partnership manager” to better reflect two-way relationships with grant partners and to remove the suggestion that our role is one of authority or regulation.     

At the top of next year, program staff will all be stepping into new roles to support our developing framework. We will share these changes in the first week of January. And, we will have a new cohort of our President’s Youth Council, to be announced in January.  
 
Onward we go, into a new year of possibilities.  
 
I hope you share my optimism for where Detroit is headed. If not, just look to the young people for inspiration and lend a hand as they lead the way.  

Punita Dani Thurman

Responsible for Opportunity Agenda strategy and key strategic initiatives; develops and fosters relationships locally and statewide to advance the Foundation’s mission

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