CitizenDetroit, co-created by former councilwoman, granted $1.5M

The Detroit News

CitizenDetroit, the civic engagement nonprofit started by former Detroit City Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel, has been awarded a $1.5 million, three-year grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the organization announced Thursday morning. 

The goal of the fund is to turn Detroit into "America's most civically active city" by 2021, a statement announcing the grant said. 

"Whoever's at the table will reflect the interests of the people who voted for them," Cockrel said Thursday. "But a lot of people fail to see how candidates or how an election matters in their lives."

CitizenDetroit, the civic engagement non-profit started by Sheila Cockrel, former Detroit city councilwoman, has been awarded a $1.5 million grant.

CitizenDetroit hopes to boost voter turnout in part by convincing Detroiters that not only does voting matter, but who they vote for and what those people stand for also matters. 

"We want to celebrate the rich tradition of civic activism in Detroit," Cockrel said. "That activism can take many formats: it can be participating in your block club, or Black Lives Matter, or participation in your local union."

On Thursday, Cockrel told The News that it became clear during her 16 years on city council that there was a lack of information available to voters not attached to a particular agenda or viewpoint. CitizenDetroit hopes to fill that void.

CitizenDetroit has created forums for citizens to hear candidates in their own words. It has put on speed-dating themed events, where candidates go from table to table, briefly acquainting themselves with Detroiters, and on its website will allow candidates to submit videos, so as to be heard by potential voters without a filter.

In a post on the Knight Foundation website, Katy Locker, Knight Foundation program manager for Detroit, touted CitizenDetroit's first "Citizen Assembly," which was held on Jan. 27.

That day, Locker wrote, hundreds of Detroiters gathered at a union hall and formed 10 priorities from the city, among them "all Detroiters will have access to quality education," "our transit system will transport Detroiters to their jobs and appointments," and "all neighborhoods will be safe."

"Enhancing the decision-making skills of local residents about their rights as citizens has been and remains necessary to set the agenda for change in the city," Locker wrote.  

In 2015, News archives show, CitizenDetroit received a $750,000 grant from the Knight Foundation.

As Irvin Reid, CitizenDetroit's co-founder and a former president of Wayne State University, said at the time: “Access to better information means citizens will better understand how difficult it is for elected and appointed leaders to make tough decisions that affect other people’s lives.”