The Detroit Region is very diverse, consisting of communities like Detroit, where the population is nearly 80% Black, and Dearborn, which is home to one of the largest Arab American populations outside the Middle East. With this diversity comes organizations making strides toward achieving equity and justice, such as The Skillman Foundation.
Skillman serves as one of the Region’s vocal advocates for K-12 education, after-school programming, child-centered neighborhoods, youth and community leadership, and racial equity and justice. One of its initiatives is the President’s Youth Council (PYC), which launched in 2020 with 13 young people.
The Skillman Foundation’s President and Chief Executive Officer Angelique Power shared that the Council was originally developed to bring Detroiters ages 12 to 22 to advise the organization’s president quarterly on issues they find important.
“I always talk about the President’s Youth Council as the final gift left for me from Tanya Allen, the former head of Skillman,” said Power. “They were part of the reason I came, knowing that I could hang out with Detroit Gen Zers. I knew from our first conversation that they wanted to do more than talk, that they really had big ideas, and that we needed them at Skillman to not just share their thoughts about their lives but to help us shape Skillman’s strategy and education policy.”
The first cohort of the Council achieved many things within the two years they advised Power. With a primary focus on wellness, the youth distributed $310,000 in grants to youth-serving organizations across Detroit, became the youngest presenters in the history of the Mackinac Policy Conference, and traveled across the country to discover new lessons and connections to bring back to Detroit. They also helped create a youth wellness fund, where they assisted in disbursing funds, ranging from healing circles to cooking classes and yoga to mental health treatment in schools.
According to Power, the first PYC cohort taught that “young people are better equipped than older people about where they are with their mental health.”
The lesson from the newly announced second cohort of 14 youth remains to be seen as each cohort sets its own priorities. Power is eager to see what they will prioritize over the next two years, as the group makeup is vastly different, featuring more entrepreneurs, singers, and other creatives.
This diversity within the cohort helps bring new ideas to Skillman, which is something Power said the organization values and fairly compensates the Council members for.
“We know that their time is valuable, their ideas are valuable, and that often when people talk about [bringing] young people to the table – all of that is wrong. Young people will recreate the furniture industry. They don’t want to be brought to the table,” said Power. “You have to pay them for their time, not just open a door and expect them to come running in, happy to be there.”
Skillman’s willingness to invest in the PYC matches the organization’s stance on equity, which Power said is more than diversity and representation. It’s about resources, “where are they going, to whom you are investing, [who] has the power to own, to decide.” Power also noted that equity is about organizations showing accountability to the communities they serve, and taking care of the PYC and letting them lead is one way Skillman does this.
“Our Youth Council isn’t about a handful of people. It’s largely about highlighting how Detroit is made better by investing in its young people for their ideas and bringing them into their strategy as opposed to thinking of them as recipients of others benevolence,” said Power. “Don’t sleep on young people. Their ideas are bold, expansive, and important.”