Blogpost: Developments in the D: Great things are happening in Detroit

By Lara Kovacheff Badke, PhD

What’s your image of Detroit?  Is it of the city’s revitalization?  Does the word ‘Detroit’ conjure up impressions of urban energy, young creative talent, a vibrant riverfront, and trendy neighborhoods?  If it doesn’t, your image of Detroit might be outdated.  Or it might be based on negative and inaccurate portrayals of blight, crime, and economic decline, fueled by media outlets that arguably cater their news to suit corporate, rather than social, interests.  Detroit has undeniably experienced social and economic shifts related to job displacements, suburban flight, and recession.  But at the same time, it has quietly—or not so quietly, if you’ve been involved in the Detroit community—been attracting young, socially aware artists and entrepreneurs migrating to the city for affordable studio space and a growing community of creative thinkers.  Recent census data reveals that Detroit’s population of college-educated residents under the age of 35 has increased by 59% in the past decade.  There is a movement to graduate more Detroit high school students, provide opportunities for greater numbers of Detroit students to pursue higher education, and establish the support necessary for them to succeed with their educational and career paths.  Renewal and regeneration in many forms—from urban gardens to public art, venture capitalism to nonprofit successes—has created a palpable buzz of opportunity throughout Detroit communities.

The National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good at the University of Michigan has been a part of this buzz, committed to educational, social, and community transformation in Detroit for over a decade.  Undergraduate and graduate students at the National Forum have the opportunity to engage in community dialogues and partnerships in order to contribute their expertise and talents toward Detroit’s revitalization efforts.  In Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood, we work with area youth and a host of community partners to promote a strong college-going culture and improve educational attainment and success.  In the HOPE Village community, we engage with a network of community partners committed to creating a thriving educational energy across the community.  By strengthening community voice, fostering opportunities, and working on conditions that improve area schools, our students are directly involved in the neighborhoods’ educational and social transformation.  Providing consultation and research support to Detroit’s Marygrove College, students at the National Forum are addressing questions of organizational transformation, professional development, curricular design, learning outcomes, program assessment, sustainability, organizational culture, and community relations as Marygrove develops a curriculum-based urban leadership initiative.  Marygrove’s program is designed to enhance all (regardless of major) of its undergraduate students’ awareness and leadership skills in an effort to develop future urban leaders empowered to produce meaningful community change.  Our students are excited to be a part of the development of this unique national urban leadership model that advances the transformative power of educational opportunity.

Developing a leadership program, creating thriving educational cultures across Detroit communities, expanding pathways that lead to individual and community empowerment, integrating the needs and interests of community partners and enabling students to learn from and contribute to community engagement opportunities, is complex, cutting-edge work involving multi-faceted dimensions of higher education.  Students at the National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good are directly involved in assisting in the development and execution of this work – work that impacts urban community change – work that is contributing to Detroit’s revitalization in important ways.

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