While the discussion and legal wrangling surrounding Detroit’s bankruptcy filing continue, not everyone is waiting for a decision before rolling up their sleeves and opening their coffers to help rebuild and restore Detroit.
Fixing Detroit – on so many levels – is required before this city can truly thrive and benefit residents, while hopefully attracting new ones. And while many are on the sidelines waiting for the ideal time to contribute, at least two foundations are leading the way by taking bold leads and putting their money in areas where lies hope and opportunity.
Much is said about the Kresge Foundation, mostly about how much influence and control they garner with their heavy investments. But, understanding the reasoning and goals behind those dollars offers needed and appreciated clarity.
Detroit is where the Kresge Foundation was founded 90 years ago and as its president and CEO Rip Rapson has repeatedly said, represents “a stake of historic proportion.” The foundation takes a particular interest in entrepreneurship, the arts, transportation, commercial revitalization and early childhood education, which round out Kresge’s commitment to neighborhood stabilization and growth through the Detroit Future Cities initiative.
Kresge is currently in year two of a $150 million commitment over the next five years to align their Detroit investments with the Detroit Future Cities initiative; this not only reflects their support of the initiative’s development, but also the execution of what will comprehensively redefine and re-energize one of Detroit’s strongest but oft-forgotten assets, its neighborhoods.
Neighborhoods can only be as strong as its residents, especially the youth. Detroit’s literacy rates and graduation numbers continue to be abysmal and prevent residents from contributing to or benefiting from any new or growth-centered opportunities. This is where another big commitment kicks in, from the Skillman Foundation. Talk to new president/CEO Tonya Allen, and you will know that it is not business as usual. She understands that helping Detroit means comprehending and delving beyond the surface. The core of that commitment? Education.
“Our most important goal is to increase meaningful high school graduation rates in the city. Meaningful refers to young people being ready for college, career and life after they complete secondary education,” said Allen. This has long been part of many discussions, but without perhaps the necessary outreach and engagement to make it a reality.
“We believe that meaningful high school graduation is the best marker on whether or not we are preparing children in this city to fully participate in the social, civic and economic engines of society,” she said.
While Allen pledges more than just money to realize this goal, Skillman has committed to an $18 million investment this year alone, on top of more than $100 million over the past five years.
Risky? Yes? Necessary? No doubt. While there are several foundations currently working to help Detroit, each whose contributions are valuable, this multi-pronged but focused approach by local (Skillman) and national (Kresge) foundations represents what I believe is necessary to sincerely and effectively rebuild Detroit. One without the other will not nearly be as successful, as they stabilize the foundation upon which other areas and organizations can contribute. As Rapson said in a speech last year, “To turn our back on Detroit would be an utter failure of vision and deep moral abdication.”
A broken and uneducated or undereducated city can never flourish. And, while all investments come with risks, these two will surely yield a productive return of which we can all be proud.