In Detroit, focus on inclusion

Graig Donnelly

There’s a common refrain heard whenever a major economic development is announced in Detroit: it benefits some populations, but not all. That feeling of disparity is rooted in a reality we’re still struggling to even admit in and around Detroit. Yes, the disparities are real. How do we ensure that any economic success story in our city is inclusive? One place it can start is with being intentional about inclusion.

We have an opportunity in Detroit to write a different story of reinvestment and revitalization. We don’t have to follow the path of displacement that so many other places have. Our story can be more diverse, inclusive, collaborative and equitable. The Detroit Revitalization Fellows aims to be part of writing this different story. This program, launched at Wayne State University in 2011, places emerging urban leaders with local organizations at the forefront of civic, community and economic development.

The program strengthens Detroit’s talent pool, attracting and retaining some of the best and brightest mid-career urban professionals from across Detroit and the nation. Our next cohort of around 20 fellows will join us for two years in August of 2015. The application period is open now until Feb. 20.

Revitalization Fellows are future leaders of our city and region who will help to shape the Detroit of tomorrow. They’re a select group of accomplished, ambitious and hard-working mid-career professionals — usually with a graduate degree and between five and 15 years of work experience — who engage in intensive leadership development while working full time at their organizations.

Detroit Revitalization Fellows has a strong commitment to connecting with neighborhoods throughout the city in a meaningful way. It includes downtown and Midtown, but also extends well beyond this small area. This commitment is rooted in our belief that true community and economic development must provide opportunities for everyone. We are equally committed to ensuring that our fellows come from a range of cultural and professional backgrounds, and bring diverse work and life experiences to their roles.

We share the belief that the Detroit of the future must be inclusive, that investment must extend beyond the downtown core, and that long-time Detroiters who have stuck it out must be supported as much as new businesses and residents who are now turning their attention here.

The best way to drive the kind of progress that Detroit needs, while remaining inclusive and addressing disparities head-on, is to ensure that opportunities and approaches incorporate a range of perspectives. Our fellows — 48 of them over the course of the last four years — have represented three distinct groups of Detroiters: newcomers who have never lived in Detroit before, former Detroiters who are returning home and Detroiters who have chosen to stay and contribute their considerable talent in their hometown.

We have a saying in our program: The network is everything. Although they are placed across the city, our fellows work collaboratively, often across long-standing barriers, to get things done. It is vital that, in getting things done, the perspectives of newcomers, returning Detroiters and long-time Detroiters are all part of the mix.

Graig Donnelly is director of the Detroit Revitalization Fellows at Wayne State University. The application period for the next cohort of Detroit Revitalization Fellows runs through Feb. 20. Visit detroitfellows.wayne.edu for more information.