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Trust is transformational, and complicated

Over the past 11 months, we’ve spoken to hundreds of people through individual and 17 group listening sessions.  

Each perspective shared has been transformative. We’re grateful as candid conversations like these take trust. Trust that we are listening with openness to change ourselves and our organization.  

Some listening tour participants came with a solid level of trust that The Skillman Foundation had earned over time. Others came with a healthy dose of skepticism and a dash of hope—just enough to get us in the door. This may especially be true of the young people we met for the first time. As one wise young man expressed, “Adults don’t automatically get my trust or respect.” We are up to the task of earning it. It’s the most important thing we can do.  

We are not just listening; We’re changing and we’re acting. The decisions we make at The Skillman Foundation about our role in service of Detroit kids–what to focus on, where to invest, how to show up, and how to assess our impact–are being informed by our conversations with young people and the adults who love them.  

The answers are never simple. Reality has many layers. Truth has many angles. We vow to hear the collective wisdom and honor it by continually asking ourselves how we can be a stronger advocate for kids and a better ally to our community.  

Examples of what we’ve heard and how we’re responding: 

Be bold but follow the will of Detroit youth. And, young people want to innovate and lead.  

  • We launched a fund for youth-led wellness projects. 40 projects will be awarded and announced in September. 
  • We’re recognizing the power of our Youth Council. What used to be an advisory panel that met with our president a few times a year is now an integral part of our team serving as strategists, grantmakers, communicators, and conveners. They don’t just have a seat at the table, they set the table.  
  • We will invest more in youth leadership and power. Next month, we will have (and will share on our website) the findings of a scan we commissioned to better understand the breadth of youth organizers working in our region.  

Jumping through hoops for funders hurts nonprofits and their missions. 

  • We’re shifting from being directive to being attentive with our current and prospective grant partners. No longer will we look for partners to execute our ideas; we will fund the expertise of people who spend their days loving and learning from Detroit youth. In a recent anonymous survey of our grant partners, they expressed seeing this shift taking root. (If you’re interested in the results of this survey, you can view it here).  
  • We are expanding funding opportunities to more organizations, grassroots efforts, and individuals. For example, we recently did a “tag who you know” on social media to help generate a list of potential grant recipients.  
  • We have shortened our grant application to make it less burdensome.   

To the detriment of Black and Brown youth, race often determines how much someone is invested in, from general well-being to education to professional opportunities. 

  • We are tracking where every penny we spend goes, by race. This includes our grants, administrative and contract work, and where our endowment is invested. We’re using this data to set actionable goals to increase our support of organizations led by people of color. 

And we keep building, together. With your insights and feedback, we’re creating a new framework to guide our grantmaking and changemaking efforts. Young people and their allies will continue to weigh in and next year, in 2023, you can expect to hear the outcome.  

Bottom line: We want Detroit youth to be the designers of their own destiny. We’re dedicated to being and doing what it takes to support that.  

Angelique Power

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

Comments (1)

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  • Ronnie Blaszczyk

    Dear Angelique,
    I know you are making a difference and will succeed in offering the youth of Detroit a brighter future.
    I, as a native Detroiter, am very excited to see how all of your efforts will benefit Detroit’s young people and make their town a great place to grow up!
    If anyone can do it, you can. Sending support and love.
    Sincerely,
    Ronnie Blaszczyk

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