Pancakes and Politics: Reimagining Detroit

President and CEO of Ignite Media Dennis Archer Jr. is back to host another installation of Pancakes and Politics presented by the Michigan Chronicle and Real Times Media. This time, the host explored how organizations are reimagining Detroit and moving the City forward.


Bedrock CEO Kofi Bonner; partner in Detroit Venture Partners Jacob Cohen; President and CEO for United Way of Southeastern Michigan Dr. Darienne Hudson; and Shawn Wilson, President and CEO of The Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan served as panelist for this installation and took a fresh look at how to move the city forward and how their individual industries are shifting the narrative of Detroit and what needs to happen to continue to grow and expand the city.


It is with no doubt that Detroit has faced radical changes since 2008. The housing market crash caused a sharp dip in Michigan’s economy and led to many residents losing their homes to foreclosure. Since, the state’s hardest hit city, Detroit, has steadily attempted to rebuild and shift the negative narrative surrounding it. Now, Detroit has once again become a thriving city, but is the impact reaching all residents?


Recently, Bedrock announced a collaborative project bringing art, music and more to downtown Detroit. The Monroe Street Midway will feature a roller skating rink, four half-court basketball courts and one multi-use sports court, art from local emerging artists, food and performance space. Merging culture and community, Bedrock is helping to create a space where creativity and family fun can be celebrated after the devastating blow of 2020.


“You’ve seen Detroit on its upswing and certainly there was a dark time when much of Detroit, as I understand it, was vacant.” says Kofi Bonner, CEO of Bedrock. “So clearly cities have much more than the bricks and glass, mortar and cement. You have to infuse it with people, you have to infuse it with energy, you have to fuse it with excitement. People must want to be in those places.”


The Boys and GIrls Club of Southeastern Michigan has been a fixture in communities for more than 95 years. Their vision is to inspire, educate and empower youth while building stronger communities. Leaving the Ford Motor Company Fund to join the BGCSM family in 2018, Wilson was motivated to accept the career change from Real Times Media CEO Hiram Jackson. The brand was facing mounting pressures and had begun to close club doors. Wilson helped to rework the older brand into a relevant force for today’s youth.


“Could you reimagine Boys and Girls Club for greater community impact? Could you reimagine it as super relevant for today?” asks Wilson.


Focused on the economic mobility of the youth involved in the clubs, programs have been revamped to teach entrepreneurship, homeownership and money management. Another major goal is to ensure the future leaders of Detroit are ready to enter the workforce. This is just another way the organization is reimagining Detroit.


“Our goal is to make sure our youth are career, start-up and homeowner ready. We want them earning a livable wage, understanding how to start a business and owning their own home,” says Wilson.


Tech is making a major come up in the economy and career advancement. Putting STEM in the faces of residents, Detroit Venture Partners is a venture capital company investing in start-ups across the city. Apart of  the family of companies that includes Bedrock, the investors are working closely with community leaders and organizations to bring tech into the city.


StockX is one of the companies backed by investment firms. Launched in 2015, the company has made its mark on the sneaker resale market. In addition to hard-to-find and collectible gym shoes, the platform carries luxury clothing items across brand and price points. With the emergence of autonomous vehicles, it’s clear technology is changing the landscape of the world.


“The thing you learn about start-ups and building a start-up ecosystem and even in helping to reimagine a city overall, it’s a long game, there’s never one silver bullet,” says Cohen.


Access to capital continues to be an economic barrier for business builders of color. After years of systemic racism, breaking and rebuilding the system to be inclusive for Black entrepreneurs is key. Leveling the playing field and paving the road to economic stability for Black entrepreneurs will help reinvent the predominantly Black city and create an inclusive space to thrive.


“One of the first thing we had to look up and realize our investor team had to be diverse,” says Cohen.


Detroiters who have spent their entire lives in the city are seeing drastic shifts in the city. While changes have helped to build some communities, others have fear of being left behind. Companies are doing the work to ensure legacy Detroiters are not left behind while the city continues to surge forward and this includes the city’s young people.


“It’s going to take all of us. It’s all of our responsibility to make sure that our children are successful. We can’t stand back in judgement. Everyone has a platform, everyone has an institution that can lean in and provide resources for our students,” says Hudson.


Reimagining the city’s landscape will be an ongoing continual effort for community leaders, organizations, and philanthropic arms. Together, we can all propel the city forward and work to ensure it is inclusive and represents the needs and wants of its residents.


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