Message from
Tonya Allen

Time for Our Detroit to come together to move graduation rate to 90 percent

Aarion Vinson graces our cover this year in her black leotard. She’s 7 years old, and dances nearly every day at the Brightmoor Community Center through an excellent youth development program called D.A.N.C.E. Aarion loves to dance. She says that dancing makes her feel happy, makes her forget her problems.

Like too many children in Detroit, the problems in Aarion’s life are real. She has lost two siblings to tragic deaths. She sometimes hears gunshots in her neighborhood. And in the last year, her father, Aaron Vinson, was shot five times trying to break up a fight. He survived, but scars remain, under his bandages and on his daughters, who talk fearfully about how it happened. It’s the kind of knowledge no 7-year-old should have.

When you ask Aarion what she dreams for Detroit, she describes a carnival. But in her next breath, she speaks beyond her years, saying she hopes for more jobs and safer streets.

I want Aarion to feel safe in her neighborhood. I want her to feel like she has great education options right in her neighborhood as well as across the city. I want her to feel happy and carefree all the time, not just when she’s dancing.

Aarion was just a baby when the Foundation began a $100-million initiative to transform six neighborhoods in Detroit. Since then, real changes and improvements have indeed happened in her neighborhood of Brightmoor, along with others.

In the Skillman Good Neighborhoods, residents, nonprofits, school leaders, police, government officials, and the philanthropic community have come together on a shared agenda for children. In places like Cody Rouge, transformation means cleaner streets, improving schools, growing networks of youth opportunities, and more community leaders.

Tonya Allen
Tonya Allen, Skillman Foundation President & CEO

In Osborn, residents are reporting an increased sense of safety thanks to community efforts to clean up blight and share crime data. In Southwest Detroit, youth are making their voices heard and taking part in ways big and small to make their neighborhood thrive. And across all six neighborhoods, graduation rates are improving. This is no small feat. If you compare these six neighborhoods, where we are working intentionally with so many others, to other neighborhoods in the city, you can see the impact we have had on our target. It’s something we are proud of – and it’s something we are doubling down on.

In 2013, we announced a mega goal to further hone our work: to improve meaningful high school graduation rates so kids are prepared for college, career and life. We realigned our funding areas to four interconnected program areas that together will make Detroit work for kids in our neighborhoods – community leadership, education, youth development, and safety. We also introduced a new set of tools, which we call Social Innovation, to tackle those programs in new ways.

I’m pleased to announce that in 2014, we added two targets to that goal. By the 2016–2017 senior class, our goal is to get graduation rates in the six neighborhoods where we work to 90 percent. By the 2020 graduating class, we are committed to reaching that mark citywide.

We will not come by these targets easily, but we are undeterred by the challenge. In the past two years, the City of Detroit moved through remarkable change. Unlikely allies came together through the bankruptcy process – state officials, unions, pensioners, banks, debtors, judges, lawyers, art lovers, funders, and more – and found a way to a solution. I heard someone recently refer to this as a new shared memory for Detroiters, a shared memory of doing something very difficult together. And it is one shared by ALL Detroiters, whether you are new to the city or have lived here for decades. Detroit’s future is an Our Detroit future.

Now is the time to be ambitious, to make the impossible possible an integral part of the Detroit way. To turn that collective action and “Our Detroit” attitude to children in neighborhoods, to make them safe places, full of opportunities, where children are educated and supported. Where 90 percent of children graduate. Where Aarion grows up, dancing carefree.

We can do it. I hope you’ll find a way to be a part of that next shared memory, as we truly rise together to make this the Detroit children deserve.