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Detroit Retreat - March 2018

In March 2018, 18 BLI Fellows embarked on a 2 day getaway to Detroit. The trip’s central theme was Value Difference.  Throughout the course of the weekend, students met with speakers who shared alternative perspectives on what leadership is, visited different parts of the city, and took part in a wide range of activities that included volunteering at an urban farm and a night at the Detroit Opera House. A student led and student driven trip, BLI Fellows and Program Assistants, Mya Haynes and Sanjee Choudhuri, organized, coordinated, and executed the weekend’s agenda, with additional support from Scott Rola and Chris Pumford during the trip.

Piling into their minivans early Saturday morning, the students first caravanned their way to Detroit’s historic Eastern Market. Wandering among the stalls of farmers and vendors that come from all over south-eastern region, students sampled salsa, beignets, homemade soups and sausages. With the spring season just around the corner, the market was flush with rhubarb and daffodils. After a couple hours of exploration, and more than one purchase of a tub of salsa, students then made their way to the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA).

The DIA is a cultural jewel and icon in the heart of the city. In addition to enjoying the myriad of ancient, modern, and contemporary art here, BLI Fellows came together to workshop around the central theme of their trip: Value Difference. The group split into different teams, brainstormed, and then presented different project proposals that they could submit for the UM’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Innovation Grant. Afterwards, they had the opportunity to hear from Keith Bennett, founder of Flip the Script. Flip the Script is a program serving at-risk men in Wayne County, working to break down employment barriers for them. Mr. Bennett gave the students insights on what it meant to be a servant-leader in the nonprofit industry: “Great leaders don’t create followers,” he said. “Great leaders create other leaders.”

Saturday evening the students dressed in their finest to see the Dance Theater of Harlem at Detroit Opera House. The dance company regaled the audience with classic ballet and contemporary performances that brought new forms, multicultural music, and non-traditional movements to the stage.

The students also met with Malik Yakini, an activist, educator, and founder of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. Mr. Yakini spoke to the students on the importance of empowerment for the African American community as whole and how his urban farm works to bring social justice, self-reliance, and collective security for African Americans in Detroit. Sunday morning, students visited Mr. Yakini’s D-Town Farm, learning more about its logistics, honey bees, and challenges. After their tour of the grounds, students donned their gardening gloves and set to work tilling and weeding the soil in one of the farm’s hoop house to help prepare for the upcoming farming season. As one student put it, this was a great learning experience that showed them “If you want to be a great leader, you need to be willing to get your hands dirty and don't think that success at a small scale means less than success at a large scale.”