There’s a common refrain heard whenever a major economic development is announced in Detroit: It benefits some populations, but not all. In the African-American community, that feeling of disparity is rooted in a reality we’re still struggling to even admit in and around Detroit: How do we ensure that every economic success story in the city is inclusive?
One place it can start is with being intentional about inclusion. Detroit has the opportunity to write a different story of reinvestment and revitalization, in the African- American community and beyond. The story can be more diverse, inclusive, collaborative and equitable. This can manifest in the African- American community in many ways, including through initiatives like the Detroit Revitalization Fellows, a Wayne State University program.
Launched in 2011, the Detroit Revitalization Fellows places mid-career urban leaders with local organizations at the forefront of civic, community and economic development in our region. The Fellows program strengthens Detroit’s talent pool, attracting and retaining some of the best and brightest mid-career urban professionals from across Detroit and the nation. The next group of approximately 20 Fellows will invest their time and talent in the program for two years, starting August 2015. Applications are open through Feb. 20.
The best way to drive the kind of progress that Detroit needs, while remaining inclusive and addressing disparities head-on, is to ensure that opportunities and approaches incorporate a range of perspectives. Revitalization Fellows — 48 of them over the course of the last four years — have represented three distinct groups of Detroiters: newcomers who have never lived in Detroit before, former Detroiters who are returning home and Detroiters who have chosen to stay and contribute their considerable talent in their hometown.
The program, currently accepting applications for its next round of Fellows, is reaching out, especially, to longtime Detroiters, who bring a critical perspective that only someone who has grown up or lived here for an extended period of time can offer. The program is actively seeking Detroit residents, particularly from the African-American, Latino, Arab-American communities, and other diverse communities in our region.
“Our Fellows work in partnership with the community and with longstanding organizationsthat have been doing difficult on-the-ground work, addressing some of the city’s most complex problems, for years or even decades. They are here to support and build on those efforts, citywide,” said Graig Donnelly, Detroit Revitalization Fellows director.
“It’s been critical in each round of the fellowship to have the ideas and voices of longtime Detroiters in the room, and we hope to see even more applications from current Detroiters, as well as those ready to bring their talent back home, in this round.”
Revitalization Fellows are future leaders of the city and region who will help to shape the Detroit of tomorrow. They are a select group of accomplished, ambitious and hard-working mid-career professionals — usually with a graduate degree and between five and fifteen years of work experience — who engage in intensive leadership development while working full time at their organizations.
Many Revitalization Fellows have been key players in innovative projects that are changing the way redevelopment is done in Detroit, such as Motor City Mapping, which trains and employs Detroiters to assess the tens of thousands of vacant properties across the city. Or REVOLVE Detroit and SWOT City, which help bring community-minded small businesses into empty neighborhood storefronts and provide business owners with support and professional training.
Amber Gladney is a Fellow in the 2013-2015 cohort, working with Invest Detroit. It provides gap financing and Amber’s duties include community outreach, special projects with a focus on the Urban Retail Loan Fund, and sourcing opportunities for grant funding.
“I think the gaps will begin to close, disinvestment won’t be so stark,” she said of the impact of her work. “Detroit should look different across the board, more stable, the edges smoothed out. That’s what I’d like to be a part of in five years.”
Detroit Revitalization Fellows has a strong commitment to connecting with neighborhoods throughout the city in a meaningful way. It includes downtown and Midtown, but also extends well beyond this small area. This commitment is rooted in the belief that true community and economic development must provide opportunities for everyone.
“We are committed to ensuring that our Fellows come from a range of cultural and professional backgrounds, and bring diverse work and life experiences to their roles,” said Donnelly. “We share the belief that the Detroit of the future must be inclusive, that investment must extend beyond the downtown core, and that longtime Detroiters who have stuck it out must be supported as much as new businesses and residents who are now turning their attention here.”
Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice is an organization with a Revitalization Fellow in the 2013-2015 cohort, Sandra Yu. The organization was able to launch a citywide environmental agenda with her help.
“The investment in Sandra as a leader through the Revitalization Fellows yielded multiple layers of benefit to Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice,” said Guy Williams, chief executive officer. “The program matches our culture of wanting to invest in people with our vision of making Detroit a global model and a place where all can live in clean, safe neighborhoods.”
Williams added that employers have the benefit of being connected to each other through the Fellows network.
“Along the way, there were other unexpected benefits, including the support system and opportunity for networking that the fellowship provided for employers,” he said.
For the 2015-2017 Revitalization Fellows, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice is hiring a chief operating officer. This position, said Williams, will help the organization evolve nimbly as a best in class environmental justice group. The incoming COO will also enable the organization to update and deploy its citywide environmental agenda, ultimately leading to a livable city that is as economically strong as it is clean and safe.
“There’s plenty of room for local people to step up and get some really great jobs here,” said Williams. “They’re well-paid and supported. People hearing about this opportunity should share it.”
Mid-career professionals with the experience and passion to help drive progress in Detroit are invited to apply to be a Detroit Revitalization Fellow via the online application at www.detroitfellows.wayne.edu.