Michigan Nonprofit Association Blog

MNA’s Blog is designed to give you, the nonprofit community, an informal look into the issues currently facing Michigan’s nonprofit sector and an opportunity to share tools, resources and best practices. It’s also a way for us to get to know each other a little bit better through candid discussions of the topics, challenges and opportunities that our sector deals with on a regular basis. Check back daily and participate in the discussions by posting a comment or emailing our bloggers. We love hearing from you!

Raw and Relevant: Real Change, Real Talk forum sparked honest emotions among Detroit leaders

There are a lot of ideas floating around about how to strengthen Detroit’s neighborhoods beyond downtown and Midtown. Now there’s a newly formed initiative committed to bringing all those ideas together and making them part of an integrated system that will move the neighborhood’s forward.

Led by long-time community developer Maggie DeSantis, Building the Engine of Community Development (BECDD) in Detroit is a collaborative process that aims to strengthen all of Detroit’s neighborhoods by building a community development system.

TheHUB has partnered with BECDD and its core partners, Lawrence Technological University, Michigan Nonprofit Association and Community Development Advocates of Detroit, to showcase the recent launch of a series titled “Real Change, Real Talk: Food, Drinks and Conversation about Detroit’s Neighborhoods.”

This first installment of our series reflects a lively, passionate discussion among community development executives, grass roots organization resident leaders, businesses, foundations, city officials and other nonprofit organizations in District 1, which will be followed by forums hosted in Detroit’s remaining community districts.

Real Change, Real Talk
Sixty-seven individuals from more than 60 different organizations gathered for coffee and conversation at the Java House last week.

COMMENTARY By Maggie DeSantis
Yes, it was an extraordinary meet, eat and greet event. But it also was the platform of a working session aimed at discussing an important question – who decides the future of each Detroit neighborhood.

The words were real, sometimes painful to hear. But the people in the room always gravitated toward hopefulness, toward the typical Detroit ethos of resilience and optimism against all odds.

“I believe if we, literally, start earlier than later, then everything gets better...”

“Those who have stayed should be ‘in,’ but residents don’t always know what’s going on, especially in the neighborhoods that have been designated....”

I guess the mayor and city council decided on the downtown developments. But a lot of people outside downtown are getting involved and need to be listened to....”

“Developers decided what was going to happen in downtown – the city doesn’t have a say.”

“We need to speak up. We have to wrestle with and confront city council and the mayor – but confront the issues with facts....”

“Gentrification might be a good thing if it helps us learn how to get along and get a better education for our kids.”

“You guys don’t need me. You guys need each other. The youth have been talking, but nobody has been listening......Nobody cares. Let the gentrifiers have it. I’m out.”

“The Detroit Planning Department holds meetings about the plans they are making to get input.”

“Decisions are not equitable. Information is not accessible. What are we doing to empower people?”

“At the end of the day, the people should decide and hold our elected officials accountable. There is no magic bullet but us.”

More than 60 neighborhood organizations participated in the panel discussion headed by Donna Murray Brown of the Michigan Nonprofit Association, a Building the Engine of Community Development partner. The room was full and the buzz was electric with 20-plus community development practitioners, several neighborhood organization leaders, five foundation executives, three City of Detroit district managers, college students, three corporations, several new grass roots organizations, and nearly 20 citywide civic and support organizations in attendance.

Maybe the best indicator of the intensity of the discussion was the quiet in the room as people were speaking. Few left early, and many stayed after the formal conversation ended.

Moderated by Donna Murray Brown of the Michigan Nonprofit Association, one of the Engine of Community Development (Building the Engine) in Detroit’s core partners, the discussion generated some key themes:

Young People and Education: We have to engage our youth in what’s happening in neighborhoods. We have to set them up for success through the right kinds of schools, using project-based learning and teaching them critical thinking, not just rote memorization. We have to educate them so that they will run for office to lead our city.

Worth: Detroit is not a “blank slate” to experiment with by those who don’t have years of experience living in our neighborhoods. Why are newer ideas from newer Detroit residents being funded and not others? Are legacy residents ideas viewed as worthy? How do existing residents and young people feel about what’s going on. Are city government and investors really valuing all the ideas and concerns and feedback?

Access: Who is getting invited to the table? Why is it easier for a developer downtown to get help from the city, but small organizations and small businesses and residents have to work so much harder to get information? We need a central clearinghouse of information on what is happening in the city. We need to take enough time to give out information so people can study it and understand it.

Authentic Collaboration: The mayor and city government have to really collaborate with residents. Who decided on what neighborhoods to designate? Who is making those plans?

It’s Us: There is no magic bullet – we are the bullet. We have to claim our power. We have to start social enterprises to fund our own initiatives. Nobody is coming to save us. We have to save ourselves. “You have to have people, you have to have a plan, and you have to take action.”

Residents Must Benefit: In the end, those who live here must decide and must derive the most benefit. Developments must benefit those who live here. Are residents’ interests really being met? Did we pass the right Community Benefits Ordinance?

This “Real Change, Real Talk” series, sponsored by Building the Engine in partnership with Lawrence Tech University, Michigan Non-Profit Association, Community Development Advocates of Detroit and TheHUB, was launched with two purposes.

First, to create space throughout all the neighborhoods for authentic discussions on Detroit communities.

Second, to encourage stakeholders from every corner of the city and many different organizations to come together and listen and learn from each other.

Every city council district, beginning with District 1, will host a gathering. Some future venues include Bakers Keyboard Lounge, The Dakota Inn, Northern Lights Bar, The Cadieux Café and many more.

Stay tuned for the next “Real Change, Real Talk” event on: Thursday, July 27 from 4:30-7:30 at Bakers Keyboard Lounge in District 2.

The topic will be “How Can Neighborhoods Benefit from the New Developments in Midtown and Downtown? The event will feature a small panel proposing several specific ideas and discussing some existing models from other cities. Then participants will comment on these ideas.

Panelists confirmed to date include Donna Givens of Eastside Community Network, Chris Uhl of Rock Ventures, District 3 City Councilmember Scott Benson and Tom Burns of Urban Ventures.