Biking to Mackinac: Why Dwan Dandridge Rides Hard for Black Businesses in Detroit

Dwan Dandridge, co-founder and CEO of Black Leaders Detroit Fund , will embark on a nearly 400-mile bike ride from Detroit to Mackinac during the annual Mackinac Policy Conference to raise awareness about Black businesses in Detroit.

Photo provided by David E. Rudolph


Dwan Dandridge, co-founder and CEO of Black Leaders Detroit Fund (BLDF), will take a nearly 400-mile bike ride from Detroit to Mackinac Island for the annual Mackinac Policy Conference slated for September 20-23.

The Detroit Regional Chamber will convene the conference, with more than 1,500 business, government and civic leaders to Mackinac Island expected to participate in the event.

Dandridge, a Detroit native, is doing this lengthy, rigorous bike ride for his nonprofit organization whose mission is to impact Detroit neighborhoods by supporting Black-owned or -led businesses. The bike-riding fundraiser will bring attention and awareness to the inequities Black entrepreneurs face in funding, according to the BLDF website.

“I felt like we needed to do something to help advance the conversation,” Dandridge said.

Launched in October 2019, BLDF has a social impact responsibility and Dandridge isn’t bashful about bringing people in to help along the way.

His organization’s base funding model encompasses Black business leaders/owners willing to commit to supporting the organization at $1 a week. Money collected from BLDF fundraising efforts is directed back into supporting Black-owned or -led businesses in Detroit.

Dandridge said that Black businesses have a benefit that he thinks is primed for opportunities not available yet because of some missing financial factors.

“We have something that is a benefit that we are ready to scale, and I think that we’re still, as a community, we really need to mature to the point where we are really ready to have some of the pots of money that are out there managed and controlled by Black leadership,” Dandridge said, adding that examples are already out there of what is being done well.

From pandemic-related issues that forced the hands of Black businesses to close (temporarily or completely) to still taking a backseat to when federal funding came down the pipeline – Black-owned businesses deserve their fair shake, he said.

“We’re still kind of like the last ones in line for almost getting the leftovers if you will when it comes to some of the access to capital,” he said, adding that BLDF is making its mission to help Black entrepreneurs, non-profit and for-profit alike, get their financial needs met.

“You have gatekeepers [over] the resources that often aren’t Black and they are responsible for advancing equity,” he said, adding that it is a “learning curve” for these individuals to know what Black businesses need — versus when the gatekeepers of the resources are Black, like the BLDF, with similar experiences.

He encourages others who can’t go along the ride to donate financially to raise awareness, “especially those going to the policy conference.”

He added that his bike ride will hopefully raise awareness and “give more of an audience” to his organization.

Dandridge added that he is looking forward to meeting more individuals at the conference who are interested in his organization and supporting the cause of Black businesses in a meaningful way. He added that he’s encouraging Black businesses to continue to step out of the box, too.

“When one of the things I preach … when I’m talking to my white friends and colleagues – decision-makers – they are comfortable sharing resources, not so comfortable sharing power,” Dandridge said, adding that for Black Detroiters, primarily in business, it is the reverse. “We want to see a share of power, not just resources.”

He says it’s time to meet in the middle and expand one’s network.

“That is one of the ways you gain access — having friends, developing relationships with people in position to make decisions. Know where the pots of money are,” he said.

Dandridge — who has a pre-existing health condition — had to get clearance from his doctor for the ride.

Dandridge has ventricular tachycardia, which is a heart rhythm disorder (arrhythmia) due to abnormal electrical signals in the lower chambers of the heart. During the bike ride, which he will begin on Sunday, September 12, Dandridge will leave Detroit and ride through Lapeer, Saginaw, Clare, Cadillac, Elk Rapids, Petoskey and Mackinac. He will leave early in case of inclement weather to get to Mackinac by September 19 to have an extra day to rest up.

He said that with his health condition, too much adrenaline could cause him to have an “episode” that triggers his heart rate to beat abnormally fast. He was hospitalized during a previous episode when his heartbeat was at 220 beats per minute; once it was off the charts at 300 beats per minute. A normal heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute.

Dandridge, who trained rigorously for his bike ride, said the 370-mile route is one his team is also taking including a support vehicle, other cyclists, an EMT, and more.

“My health concerns are not something that I typically talk about publicly, but I realize that taking on a ride of this magnitude makes it hard to avoid,” he said on his organization’s website. “Similar to my reluctance to have discussions about my heart condition, I feel like we’re not having an honest discussion about the disparities when it comes to the equal access to capital.”

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