Q: Where did you grow up?
Here. Detroit, MI. Born, raised, and educated.
Q: How has Detroit changed since the moment you got here until now?
In my childhood, there were more people living in the city, so more neighborhoods were activated with their own special flavor. Now with the decline of people who live there, an opportunity to reactivate the flavors of the neighborhoods based on the shrinking population is created. When I was younger, the farm was where you went when you wanted to go apple picking, but today you go into the city. I remember when people talked about urban farming, the mayor said, “that’s crazy.” Now we have beekeepers in the city, we have farmers in the city, and we are reclaiming the land to turn it into more public space—something that was not present when I was a kid.
Q: How do you picture Detroit in 10 years?
This is why I came back. I left the city in 2008 because of the recession and lived in Charlotte, NC for 10 years. But I specifically came back because I wanted to be a part of the resurgence. The people here have always had the spirit of change, but they didn’t necessarily have the means to make it happen. In 10 years, I see people owning their power and being in more control of what happens next. When I was younger, I vividly remember industry and business being in charge of what happens in Detroit, not the people. In the near future, the people will be in charge. I envision the next mayor to be a block club president or a homeowner’s association president—an activist.
Q: What is your favorite thing to do in Detroit?
Eastern market. I love to people watch; I love the art; I love the food. I think it's, to me, it's the best representation of what the city has to offer. It’s really quiet there. People from all walks of life come together. The fact that you can have all of this—Greek food, African food, Caribbean food—in one area is incredible. I am a photographer in my down time, and I have put together a lot of photojournalism opportunities at the market that have been published.
Q: How did you get to where you are today?
Let me give you the short version of the long story. Growing up here in Detroit, I have had an opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life. One year, when I was 14 or 15, my mom introduced me to COTS (Coalition On Temporary Shelter), a homeless shelter in Detroit because we were dropping off my mom’s maternity clothes and baby clothes—a real need for women escaping domestic violence situations. So anyways, we go drop the clothes off. When we walk in, my mother calls out, “Tony.” And it’s my cousin, and my cousin’s there with her baby. We hadn’t seen her in years, and we certainly didn’t know she had a baby. Seeing here there literally changed my entire life. I knew right then in there that whatever I did professionally, I had to do it in Detroit and in a capacity that has the power to change someone’s life. It was an incredibly profound moment for me as a teenager. In high school, when I was in school clubs, I did the social entrepreneurship clubs or civic participation, anything that was community based. This continued when I was in college; I was always giving back, doing community work. I came back to Detroit and went to Wayne State for grad school. I always worked for nonprofits or educational opportunities. This moment showed me that anybody, at any time, at anyplace could fall into hard times. If I could take my professional skills to prevent that, that was what I was meant to do. I want to help people create a new legacy for themselves. That’s how I got here today.
This extremely shocking moment meant so much to me. I think about that day and think about what if we did not see her. My mom said, “give it to her right now,” referring to the clothing and resources we were donating. I currently have four bags of clothes right now by my desk that I am going to donate after work. That's what we do now. I tell my children to round up their old clothes, we pack it nicely in a bag, and go donate. You do it because you can. When you see someone in the area wearing your clothes you know you made a difference.
Q: What is a hurdle you have overcome?
Self-doubt is probably the biggest hurdle that I have overcome. Because I was born and raised in Detroit, people put a mark on you. Because I am a woman, and a black woman at that, there were a lot of challenges. I was constantly questioning myself: “Can I do this?”
Q: How would you describe social entrepreneurship and how do you believe TechTown is fostering it?
I describe social entrepreneurship as business for good. Interestingly enough because Detroit is in this special place in time and in history, and of course you do not know history until it is over, business that is now done in this city automatically has to have a social entrepreneurship aspect to it. You cannot introduce a business to this town that does not have this. If you introduce a business to the town that doesn’t, you won’t be in business for long. Take the scooters for example, at first thought they just seemed like some new technology that Silicon Valley would implement not knowing if it is what people need; it did not make too much sense for these to be in Detroit. But the kids are hacking their futures and taking these scooters into their neighborhoods that need it. They are more financially feasible to use in areas that the bus does not ride into. That’s a way that social innovation will keep happening in the city. If it’s not for good, we will make it for good or we will force you out of business for good.
Q: What would you want to share with people who do not know much about Detroit?
That we are actually very nice. There is this connotation that people have that Southern people are nice, and that’s not not true, but people have the impression that Northerners are not nice. The majority of the black population of Detroit came here from the South during the Great Migration. We never stopped being nice, and are we pointed—hell yeah, but we’re nice. We are actually nice, we definitely have a bs detector, but we rally, we will give people the shirts off our backs. When people are having hard times, we will come together and make sure they can get through it.