As the City of Detroit emerges from the largest municipal bankruptcy in the United States and has new leadership at the helm, identifying the next generation of leaders has become critical.
“We need young people to stay and to thrive, so they need an education, they need a credential and they need to be comfortable being the next generation of leaders,” said Linda West, a retired coordinator at the Community Learning Partnership of Southeast Michigan.
The Community Learning Partnership, a national nonprofit dedicated to developing community change studies - or community leadership programs - across the country, is helping to build the city’s future brigade of community leaders. The local CLP site, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, partners with local community organizations and area community colleges to develop degree and certificate programs in community change studies.
In 2012, Detroit-based Southwest Solutions was selected as the local partner to drive the development and launch of a Community Learning Partnership in southeast Michigan. Southwest Solutions established relationships with community partners across three target neighborhoods in Detroit – southwest Detroit, Brightmoor and Cody Rouge – and southeast Dearborn, all low-income areas with high concentrations of minority and immigrant residents.
“In a lot of cases communities don’t have a strong bench of people to move into those leadership roles,” said Deborah Pfliegel, Community Learning Partnership of Southeast Michigan program consultant. “That’s why this program is so important.”
The organization also partnered with local community colleges and a key university – Henry Ford Community College, Macomb Community College and University of Michigan-Dearborn – to develop leadership programs. Instruction for the core courses focus on: diversity in society, American government and leadership in community.
“If we cannot get the next generation of leaders from some of these communities trained, educated, understanding their history, understanding what it’s going to take to make change and going back to these communities, where are we going to get them from,” West said.
In 2014, Henry Ford Community College (HFCC) became the first institution to launch the leadership program, offering an associate’s degree in community leadership. Eight students are currently enrolled, all required to take four core classes and a minimum of 60 credits to graduate.
Judith Wineman, an HFCC professor with more than 30 years of experience leading social justice campaigns, said students are taught quality leadership skills through hands-on activities inside and out of the classroom.
“We’re trying to help students build a body of skills that they can take into the job market, particularly in the Detroit area,” Wineman said.
Students are taught to develop budgets and public policy, to lead community initiatives and to network with community leaders in the field as they examine issues affecting the community. They also are required to have an internship with a community organization.
The program also requires them to “journal” what they’ve learned until they graduate. Students are eligible to use the program’s fast-track option to enroll into a four-year university when they complete the program.
“Hopefully people will get two things,” West said of students enrolled in the program, “the fire in the belly – that kind of defining moment that happens to people that says, ‘I want to make a difference.’ The second thing they can get is an actual degree.”
Detroit resident Rosebud Schneider works as a healthcare provider for the American Indian Health and Family Services in southwest Detroit. She enrolled into the CLP program, hoping a degree will help her advance at her workplace.
“It helps me to better assess how the community is doing and its needs,” Schneider said. “I tend to have better ideas now.”