Question: What's your story? How did you get to where you are today at ProsperUS?
"I finished my undergrad at University of Michigan – Dearborn. I’m waiting to get into my geography class and this professor walks by posting this new flyer for a community organizing class. She asked me if I wanted to take it so I ended up just taking a flyer just because she was nice. It turned out I had a gap in my schedule the next summer and it fit perfectly in my schedule. So, I took the class and part of the requirement for the class was working with one of the partners the teacher had lined up, doing service. I ended up choosing the Harriet Tubman Center with Bill O’Brian, a long-time activist in the community. At the same time, I started work-study that semester and chose Urban Neighborhood Initiatives. At the end of the summer there, Christine Bell, now director of UNI, asked if I were available over the summer to take minutes during board meetings for the Community Learning Partnership, a network of community change studies across the U.S. I said I guess, I really didn’t want to but she was so great to me. Linda West, who worked here as a representative for Southwest Economic Solutions (SWES), was hiring the intern. SWES was the fiduciary for this committee. She basically said, “So, basically you need a job; I need an intern. I’m not going to interview anyone else for the job because I don’t have the time. So, if you want a job, you got it.” That's how I started interning for the Community Learning Partnership (CLP). It turned out the class that I took that fit into my schedule was actually part of that program. It was really weird how that all worked out. That was one of the talking points: "Alejandra is our intern and took the class!" As I was working for CLP, small [opportunities] popped up. I worked for the Learning Lab on Vernor Highway for 4 months part-time to cover someone. [After I was done covering], I had more hours to fill and Hector Hernandez came to me and asked if I wanted to do the board meeting minutes for Southwest Housing and SWES. I took the job and I started to know more about the organization through that because I had to be trained by the executive assistants down at Michigan Avenue. I met a lot of people doing that and it was a good experience organizing board meetings and meeting board members and of course taking minutes, which is horrendous! I did that and I was out of the Learning Lab and was working with ProsperUS contractually. Since the Learning Lab hours were freed up, Kimberly Faison (ex-director of ProsperUS) at the time asked if I wanted to supplement Jordan because she was going part-time. I did that for 3 months and ended up going back to the Learning Lab. Kimberly Faison would always ask what I would do next after finishing my undergrad and she pushed me for professional development. My scholarships at the time, I was getting calls about going to grad school. I ended up deciding to go to grad school and I went to Arizona for 8 months and finished a little over half of what I needed to do but came back because of family-reasons and I hated the blazing heat of Arizona. Everything was basically online and I only had a few classes in person. It was a different feel and I hated the learning management program they had.
I ended up applying for this position and Kimberly phone interviewed me and when I got back I started work here"
Question: What is an obstacle that you’ve overcome in your time here?
"When I came back from freshman year, I was in a space where I didn’t want to go to school: 'what’s the point of school, it’s just a piece of paper. I’m just gonna move to Mexico and move with my aunt and we’re just gonna raise the animals.' My mom would always freak out. I ended up not going back to my original school and ended up taking some community college classes. When it came time to formally transfer from my original school to University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, my dad got sick and at the time I realized I needed to be close to home. Because of that, I ended up in Dearborn and not Ann Arbor, and if I wasn’t in Dearborn, I wouldn’t be here. Right before I started working here, I lost my Dad. It’s been nice working here because everyone has been very understanding, it’s like a family. When I lost my mom, everyone was very understanding then too and Joanna and Matthew would take on my share of the work. One of the reasons I came back was my mom got sick. All that time till her passing and having to go to Mexico, everyone shouldered the burden of what I couldn’t do and was never an issue. Overcoming all of it with help."
Question: What does social entrepreneurship mean to you?
"I use a very broad definition I heard at one of the team meetings. Running the business so well that you’re able to also have a mission behind it. That’s how I think about it."
Question: Why did you decide to come back and live in Detroit?
"Well, I was born here. I think my dad moved to Michigan of all the states in the U.S. because it is like the translation of the state in Mexico. Michoacán is basically Michigan; it’s basically the same. We didn’t have any family here, blood-related. When I was growing up you would have this struggle, you hate it but when you’re gone you miss it. I started off my undergrad in Baltimore. I had to go to Math and English and I was missing Math and Spanish so terribly. It’s the small things you miss. And when you’re away you talk about your neighborhood and everything was in Spanish and everyone speaks Spanish. In Arizona, things were in Spanish but it was so hot. I think it wasn’t until I really started working here that I came to the whole “I wanna be part of the Detroit Story”. I love Detroit; you learn to love it."