It’s been a year
When I began at The Skillman Foundation last September, I intentionally slowed my roll. I walked into Detroit knowing there is a need to learn. To learn the wide-ranging cast of characters that call this place home. To learn the language of place and to hear even the unsaid. To study the history with all of its plot twists and resolutions to date. To understand that who is telling you the story is just as important as the story being told because there are many truths, many twists, many resolutions, and many unresolved storylines.
This year, I discovered a city that is rapidly changing while in a fight to retain its soul. A sparkling Black and Brown city of creativity and crackling entrepreneurship in every neighborhood, filled with the genius of young people.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…. the longer you stand on Detroit soil and talk to people who live and love and work here, the smarter you become.
The people here are unlike any other place. Everyone bleeds Detroit, from those who are longtime residents, to those who work in the city, to those who grew up here but moved elsewhere. The dedication to creating a Detroit of our dreams is omnipresent.
Learning the city hasn’t all been rosy. Detroit has scars, some fresh, others long held. With all the kind, warm embraces that have greeted me, there are also those who look with well-earned askance. Those who see me, philanthropy, and at some points, The Skillman Foundation, as entities that must earn their trust.
I’ve been welcomed and I’ve been warned. I’ve been asked to step to the mic, the podium, to be the face of a project, and I’ve had to say no, not yet, not without a broad coalition around us. I’ve been told I cannot align with youth, residents, activists, business leaders, and policy makers. I’ve even been yelled at on a couple occasions. The underlying message was to subscribe to ONE perspective, believe ONE version of history, choose ONE sector to align with, take a side, take a side, take a side.
It is the role of our foundation to stand in the charged field between sectors, entities, and brilliant but bifurcated people, and to stay centered on Detroit’s children and youth. And to not only center them in the context of today, but to follow them as they lead us somewhere new, away from the old trauma and into the new possibility. Young people live in intersectional identities and understand systems. We are following them and welcoming all who are willing to get somewhere new with us.
Detroit is the past and the future simultaneously. Come to Detroit if you want to study activism, radical entrepreneurship, community-led development, and industry innovation that continues to redefine housing, education, mobility, and music. This city is the birthplace of creativity.
I’m learning, listening, co-designing, walking with youth, and rising to the moment with you. As always, feel free to send a note or idea to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for welcoming me, for warning me, and for trusting me with your full selves.
Standing in the charged field together,