On the weekend of February 10th, the Leader Advancement cohort of 2016 traveled to Detroit to perform two days of service. First, we visited Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, where the cohort participated in leadership activities with the students. Jalen Rose Leadership Academy is a pubic charter high school on the North West side of the city of Detroit. Students who would like to attend the high school must apply for it their last year of middle school, making the school selective. Jalen Rose Leadership Academy opened its doors in 2011, and took its first class of freshmen that September. Students at Jalen Rose are exposed to leadership at an early age, making them prospective leaders of the future. LAS arrived at Jalen Rose around 2pm. The school had already released class, however, students stayed after to participate in the activities that we had for them. The students welcomed us with open arms and were very engaged in the activities that we shared with them. The school promoted a sense of inclusion, and the students felt very comfortable to be sharing their experiences with us. As an LAS student, I facilitated activities at Jalen Rose, making it one of my first times facilitating! Within the few hours at Jalen Rose, I felt that we were able to make a difference in the lives of many upcoming leaders. The amount of time that we spent at the academy was short, a mere two hours, however, we as a cohort were able to leave a lasting impact on the students of Jalen Rose.
After leaving Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, we ventured into midtown of Detroit. We were invited to a presentation and tour of QuickenLoans, one of the largest FinTech companies in America. Upon arrival, I instantly knew that Quicken was different. The Chase building where Quicken is located had a real feel, and created a sense of belonging with a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. QuickenLoans leads the push to bring back the city of Detroit, and is a contributor to pulling new businesses into the city. Upon arrival we all ate pizza as a cohort. After eating a delicious meal fromPizza Papalis, QuickenLoans put on an inspiring presentation. The Quicken presentation changed my perspective of the entire city of Detroit. The presentation began with Buddy Henika, a recruiter for Quicken. Buddy explained the company and shared inspiring experiences he has had with QuickenLoans. At the end of the presentation, Buddy opened up the floor for questions. When one of my classmates asked, “Why did you join Quicken?” Buddy gave a great answer, “I joined because of the community aspect.” However , what really impressed me is that John Fikany, Vice President of strategy development, stood up and took the mic: “You have to find something you are passionate about, and for me, that was the city of Detroit.” As a student, it is not common for the Vice President of a company to be front and center in a room addressing college students, however, Quicken had their VP front and center. Mr. Fikany has the accolades that any professional would want, and even better, he is humble about his work. Mr. Fikany was a top executive at Microsoft, and previously was an executive at Oracle. He contributed to the success of two of the largest technology companies in the world. The philanthropy of John Fikany and QuickenLoans as a whole has inspired the upcoming generation to become more involved within the community. QuickenLoans will hire close to 1000 interns into the Detroit office. This within itself is giving back to the community. Quicken promotes innovation, and allows the upcoming generation to come into a professional workplace and thrive.
After QuickenLoans, we went into the DIA(Detroit Institute of Arts). For me, the DIA was a good time to do some self reflection regarding the day at Jalen Rose Leadership Academy and at QuickenLoans. Ive been to the DIA plenty of times, but I always enjoy looking at art. When looking at art I often express many different forms of emotion, which usually leads to me understanding how grateful I am.
After the DIA, we ventured to the Outdoor Adventure Center in Detroit. Linda Walter, mom of Senior LAS member David Walter, is the director of the center. At the Outdoor Adventure Center we learned about the history of the city of Detroit. As the city grows in population once again, it is important to learn about how a citizen can make a difference in the community. At the center we also learned more about the environment and learned information about the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
The next morning, we went and volunteered at Cass Community Social Services. Cass Community Social Services fights poverty and creates opportunity for those in need. Cass provides food, health care, housing, and jobs to those who need it. When working at Cass, I could tell that everyone loved helping out the community. It was truly eye opening to be working side by side with underprivileged people, because it destroyed the stigma of people being “lazy” that is often associated with homelessness. When working at Cass, I fully understood that the people who were utilizing the center just caught a bad break, and were working hard to get back on their feet. Our day of service began! When at Cass, we were divided into groups. One group made door mats, one group worked in the kitchen, one group shredded paper, and one group organized donations. I was in the group that was shredding paper. The shredding job employs many people who have mental disabilities and are looking for work. The community center allows people with special needs to experience having a job, and to experience being integrated into society. Cass allows people of all backgrounds to have a shot at getting acquainted with society. The experience allowed me to realize truly how fortunate I was. There are many people in the city of Detroit that are living at or below the poverty line, it is truly sad: it honestly breaks my heart. Community Centers like Cass are the reason the citizens of Detroit are able to receive some relief.
NOW WHAT? Overall, the trip to Detroit was truly an eye opening experience. When on the trip, I deeply connected with students from Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, as well as volunteers at Cass Community Social Services. My biggest eye opener on the trip was seeing all of the poverty in a neighborhood so close to mine. The city of Detroit once was a thriving city, filled with manufacturing and life, however, over the last 40 years, the city has been deteriorating due to racist policy and limited opportunity for minorities.
As a student in the Leadership Institute here at Central Michigan University, I feel that it is my job to promote an inclusive environment, and produce an environment where EVERYONE is able to have an opportunity to thrive and demonstrate their God given talents. The city of Detroit lacks opportunity. The once great city lacks the investment that it needs to thrive again. Businesses such as QuickenLoans has started the idea of renovation and development, but the next generation of leaders are going to be the ones that are going to leave the lasting impact. The foundation has been started, but must be continued by the millennials who are graduating college in the next few years.
During the trip, I connected deeply with one of the students at Jalen Rose Leadership Academy. We were engaged in good conversation, and I asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up.” He responded with, “I know I want to be an anesthesiologist. My cousin is the first person who went to college in my extended family, and he is an anesthesiologist.” I was really inspired by his response. The boy I was speaking to would be the 2nd person in his family to go to college, and that really inspired me. Instead of shooting for a “average” life, the boy wanted to go big. He was inspired by his cousin to do great things, which in turn inspired me to be grateful of the opportunity I had here at CMU.
As an emerging leader, it is important for me to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, rather than holding a bias about an area. The city of Detroit is a beautiful and upcoming city, however, if one had a bias about the city, they would not be able to truly experience its beauty. As a leader, I need to work on being a compassionate and always inclusive. The trip really exposed me to people from all different walks of life, and they have inspired me to always be inclusive in my actions. I will take this experience to reflect on how fortunate I am. When I have spare time, instead of participating in selfish actions, I will reach out to members of my community and participate in servant leadership the community so deeply needs.
In the city of Detroit there are many things that I am not familiar with, such as urban development. I do not know much about the revival of the city, only that QuickenLoans is leading the push to integrate business back in the city. In the future, I want to learn how I can help in the constant rebuild of the city, along with learning about the other businesses who are helping to restore the city.
In the city, we need more people who are dedicated to servant leadership. Most people in the world today are greedy and put themselves before others. The fix in the city of Detroit is having people who are the opposite. We need to create values that revolve around the principle of community rather than individualism. Once we are able to change the mindset of people, we will be able to begin the service to rebuild the entire city. The city has the potential, we just need to give it the helping hand to get on its feet again and thrive.