Black Women Play a Crucial Role in the Success of Detroit’s Non-Profits

(Photo Black Women Non-Profit Lila Asante-Appiah, CAO Detroit Downtown Partnership, – Eradajere Olieta, Founder Chip Bag Project, -Tyra Moore, Founder A Girl Like Me Inc.)

Today, we are witnessing a society teetering on the brink of profound social transformation and the role of Black women as architects of change cannot be overstated. Historically, Black women have been the backbone of movements that have propelled society forward, often doing so from the margins of the very systems they seek to reform. The aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, marked by a surge in corporate and philanthropic pledges towards racial justice, seemed to herald a new era of progress. The significant increase in diversity, equity and inclusion roles and funding aimed at bridging the racial wealth gap for Black girls and women appeared promising.

Detroit, a city with a rich history and the largest Black population in the United States, stands as a beacon of this progress stamped by resilience and community spirit. The non-profit sector in Detroit, much like in other predominantly Black cities, serves as a crucial backbone, addressing systemic issues ranging from education and health disparities to economic inequality and social justice. At the heart of this spirit lies the indispensable role of Black women in the non-profit sector, whose leadership is characterized by empathy, resilience, and an unwavering commitment to community upliftment.

Where grassroots organizations to larger entities strive to make a significant impact, Black women are leading the charge with unwavering dedication and innovative strategies. Their leadership in the non-profit sector is not just about filling a gap; it’s about understanding the deep-rooted issues that affect their communities and finding sustainable solutions.

Grassroots organizations, often born out of immediate community needs and spearheaded by local women, are a testament to the power of localized, hands-on activism. These entities work on the front lines, offering services and programs tailored to the unique challenges faced by their communities. From after-school programs and health awareness campaigns to food pantries and housing assistance, these organizations fill critical gaps left by larger institutions.

Grassroots organizations like A Girl Like Me Inc., where the focus is on a wide array of challenges faced by young girls, from body image, mental health, education, career development, and social challenges. The organization’s objective is to equip those girls with the tools they need to overcome obstacles, make informed decisions, and pursue their goals with confidence. Tyra Moore, the founder and executive director of A Girl Like Me Inc., states, “Black women play a vital role in shaping and leading non-profit organizations, bringing unique perspectives and experiences to the table.” She further emphasizes the critical role of Black women in the non-profit sector, particularly in Detroit, saying, “In Detroit Black women are instrumental in addressing systemic inequalities, championing social justice, and uplifting marginalized communities within the non-profit sector.” Moore also highlights her personal contribution, remarking, “It’s my ability to relate to women of all races and age groups that makes me invaluable in the community service sector.”

On a larger scale, Black women are also at the helm of significant non-profit organizations that tackle broader systemic issues and economic development advancements. By leading these entities, they bring a unique perspective that intertwines lived experience with strategic vision. This combination is crucial in developing programs and policies that are not only effective but also resonate with the communities they are meant to serve.

Leaders like Lila Asante-Appiah Chief Administrator Officer for Downtown Detroit Partnership believes that when it comes to efficient leadership in these spaces a few principles must be set in place, “The most important attributes to me are authenticity. I think it is important for leaders to be mindful that being in a formal leadership position doesn’t mean that you are the smartest person in the room,” said Asante-Appiah. “Another attribute is sharing power with others as opposed to having power over others. Black leaders of non-profit organizations, especially those that are benefiting Black communities, are often very connected to the experiences of those they serve. While sharing power with others is important, it is equally essential to empower community members to use their personal agency to get involved in the process and effect positive change.”

The Downtown Detroit Partnership stands as a beacon for progress and vitality within the heart of the city, downtown. This nonprofit organization, with a broad membership base, dedicates itself to the transformation and enhancement of Downtown Detroit into a bustling, world-class metropolis and by doing so, the correlation between Detroiters and DDP must include DEI. “The last attribute that I will mention, which won’t be a surprise, is being a DEI crusader.” Asante-Appiah said. “For me this looks like showing others how to advocate like they are correct but listen closely, because the devil is in the details. What helps me to embody this is keeping the dialogue open, because we can only reach solutions with open, healthy communication.”

One cannot overlook the historical context that has paved the way for these women to emerge as community leaders. Detroit’s economic challenges, coupled with social issues, have disproportionately affected the Black population. In response, Black women have harnessed their collective strength and knowledge to spearhead initiatives that address everything from education and healthcare disparities to economic empowerment and social justice.

They operate on the front lines, directly engaging with community members to understand their needs and aspirations. These organizations are adept at mobilizing resources, raising awareness, and fostering a sense of community and belonging. Their work is a testament to the power of localized, culturally informed interventions in creating lasting change.

Reflecting on the evolution of support for Black women reveals a rich history of collective action and philanthropy. From grassroots fundraising efforts during the Civil Rights Movement to the creation of land co-operatives, Black women have long exemplified the power of communal support and resource sharing as means to combat systemic injustices. These acts of solidarity and resilience underscore the critical role of Black women in shaping a just society.

“Black women emerge as the radiant threads embodying resilience, compassion, and boundless innovation,” shared Eradajere Oleita founder of the Chip Bag Project, a nonprofit organization that was started with a simple goal to keep unhoused Detroiters warm, but little did Oleita know, this grassroots organization was to become an international recognized and supported non-profit. As a young Black woman, she shares her insight on her community of Black women in this sector, “Their unwavering dedication to uplifting communities serves as a beacon of hope, illuminating pathways to equity and justice. Here in Detroit, their leadership transcends mere influence; it becomes the very essence of community empowerment. Through their tireless efforts, they cultivate spaces of belonging and opportunity, nurturing dreams and igniting aspirations.”

Historically, Black women have been at the forefront of philanthropic innovation, embodying the spirit of communal support for societal advancement. Their efforts, ranging from grassroots fundraising through the sale of homemade goods to support pivotal movements like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, to the establishment of land cooperatives, have been instrumental in driving significant social changes. This tradition of collective action and mutual aid has served not only as a means of progress but also as a vital coping mechanism against the compounded effects of racism and sexism.

The importance of Black women in the non-profit sector extends beyond their immediate achievements. They serve as role models and mentors, inspiring the next generation of leaders. Their presence and success challenge the stereotypes and barriers that have historically limited opportunities for Black women, opening doors for more inclusive and equitable leadership across all sectors.

In Detroit and similar cities, the work of these formidable women and the organizations they lead is a beacon of hope and a catalyst for change. They exemplify the profound impact that dedicated, community-oriented leadership can have in transforming lives and landscapes.

As we celebrate the achievements of Black women in Detroit’s non-profit sector, we are reminded of the power of collective action and the enduring strength of communities when led by those who understand their heart and soul. Their work not only uplifts the present but also lays the foundation for a more just and vibrant future for all.

“As architects of change, they bridge divides and dismantle barriers, weaving together the fabric of a future where every voice resonates, and every life flourishes,” said Oleita. “Their legacy is not merely defined by milestones, but by the indelible mark they leave on hearts, minds, and the collective conscience.”


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