They’re gifted, bright and talented leaders in their respective fields in and around metro Detroit. These brothers lead the way in their professions and pull out all the stops to ensure metro Detroiters (and beyond) are healthy to the fullest from their coins to their mindset. The Michigan Chronicle interviewed these community role models and learned what makes them do what they do. Now let’s meet these amazing men:
Meet This Financially Healthy Brother
Donnell White, senior vice president of Regional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Huntington Bank, will get your finances together while lifting the Black community and more.
White also served as executive director of the Detroit Branch National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and helped oversee strategic, financial and operational oversight of the historic organization while also serving as the spokesperson and community liaison for the organization.
White said that he works hard in his field for those who need help the most.
“We know the impact COVID-19 has had on small businesses,” he said of women-owned and minority-owned businesses.
White said that TCF Bank – now part of Huntington Bank – had a unique opportunity to empower these businesses in the community through strategic initiatives in Detroit and more.
He also said that from launching a billion-dollar initiative supporting minority-owned and women-owned businesses, there are “many alignment points” that show his company’s commitment to customers.
“We are stronger together,” he said of banking, and as a community.
He added that sometimes talk of supporting minorities “gets racialized” but it is vital to support all aspects of pockets of the community, including veterans who are also “certainly worthy of support.”
From addressing “extreme” disparities in the Black community (which white counterparts aren’t always as impacted by) to discussing homeownership – White and Huntington Bank are making moves to bridge the gap.
“There is a huge opportunity for us to improve the economy by advocating through policy and initiatives,” he said of every American “regardless” of their race. “If we do that, we all win.”
Meet This Mentally Healthy Brother
Virgil Williams Jr., COO of Central City Integrated Health (CCIH), credits his mother for inspiring him to go into social work early in his career.
“I was born in a little town in Tennessee, Union City, Tenn., to be exact, and back then in the late ’60s early ‘70s, we were truly segregated. I witnessed my mother defend a white gentleman who had made the mistake of approaching a young Black female on ‘our side of town’ and in front of our house,” Williams said. “Needless to say, this made the Black males in my hometown extremely angry, and they began to beat the white guy.”
Williams said that at that moment his mother ran outside with an old broom handle that she used to prep the chickens for their dinner, and she beat the guys off of the man.
She told the men that regardless of color, there is a “wrong way and a right way to handle this.”
“This was my first introduction to the true meaning of social work — helping those less fortunate,” he said. “I have been dedicated to fighting for those who are having difficulty fighting for themselves ever since.”
Central City Integrated Health is a federally qualified health care center that provides primary care services, dental services, substance abuse services, employment services, housing services as well as behavioral health services.
“Our integrated approach is to treat the whole person and there is truly no wrong door in accessing our services,” Williams said, adding that his role first and foremost as COO is “the commitment to provide quality healthcare to the people we serve.”
“And secondly, to ensure that our staff is and remains committed to our core beliefs of providing quality integrated healthcare to our community,” he said. “I try to lead by example especially when interacting with African American males and I do share my story in hopes that they see that it can be done. Our community, which consists primarily of African Americans as well as other ethnicities, benefit from the over 45 years of experience Central City brings to the table.”
They are in an area where roughly 86,000 low-income residents (out of a population of about 494,000 low-income residents) across Detroit and Wayne County could receive quality healthcare services at no out-of-pocket expense.
“That is truly powerful,” Williams said.
He added that Black men are at a crucial time in history.
“It is vital that an honest and open discussion take place to ensure that men truly understand just how important it is to take care of one’s mental health as well as one’s physical health.”
Meet This Physically Healthy Brother
Detroit native William McCray, 36, owner of Clawson-based Willpower Fitness Group, has a passion for fitness that started when he was 12 years old.
He begged his mother for a weight set for Christmas to help him to deal with the chaos that he faced at home.
“My mother struggled with depression and anxiety and resorted to alcohol as a coping mechanism. So, I, in turn, used lifting weights as my therapy,” he said, adding that this “escape” also helped him deal with the pain of his father not being present in his life due to prison incarceration. “When my mother passed away when I was just 16, and she herself only being 34, it solidified my path to health and fitness.”
McCray said that in his field, it is his job to lead by example.
“I use my life story as inspiration and motivation for others,” he said, adding that his family has pre-existing health conditions like a history of obesity, high blood pressure and other ailments which have also “long-plagued the Black community.”
“I stand at the forefront of this fight, encouraging Black people to make healthy changes in diet and to get active. It’s literal life and death,” he said. “I have a client who initially came to me with chronic kidney disease with his kidneys only functioning at 80 percent. Since becoming a client, he’s lost 50 pounds in five months and is in remission from chronic kidney disease with his kidneys now functioning at 99 percent.”
He added that “there is nothing more important than your health.”
“In the Black community, our lives are often cut short from poor health, which in a lot of cases can be prevented. Healthy diet and exercise can literally extend your life by years. Not only do you benefit from making healthy choices, but your loved ones as well,” he said. “You get to be around to see your kids grow up and have children of their own. You no longer put that burden on your family to have to bury you prematurely. The Black health initiative needs to start now.”
Meet This Spiritually Healthy Brother
Detroit resident R.J. Johns, 29, a life coach at R.J. Johns Life Coaching, based in Detroit has a God-given talent for honing in on the things that people are most insecure about and addressing it head-on.
Johns tells his clients, who sometimes have a “limiting perspective belief,” that even though they believe that they can’t achieve certain things because of age, time, money, etc., try anyway.
“When we identify a limiting belief we challenge it,” he said, adding that people do have enough time to do their goals and they’re not too old to accomplish their dreams. “Sometimes these beliefs come from ourselves, our perceptions, our parents … whoever.”
Johns added that he coaches people to look at what they have accomplished in life and tells them that they can succeed again with their new endeavors.
“You get them to apply the same principles going forward,” he said, adding that through a spiritual lens people need to be healed from whatever trauma they faced. “Most oftentimes people try to operate out of brokenness, and it just doesn’t work.”
“We have to step outside of self to look [at] and understand what area it impacts and then try to apply spiritual principles,” he said, adding that for Christians that means going to God to be healed. “Once we apply those spiritual principles it helps heal the whole man physically, mentally and emotionally.”