Over a whirlwind weekend in March, the Barger Leadership Institute led a retreat in Detroit with a group of 22 students eager about sustainability.  We went to some iconic Detroit spots like the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA), Eastern Market, Cliff Bells, Belle Isle, and the Motown Museum. In addition to these iconic spots, what the students experienced and have become everlasting are the connections that they made during this trip. They made new friends, met with local vendors, and engaged with community panelists. 

The highlight of the weekend was Saturday's Panel on Sustainability and Environmental Justice. BLI students gathered at the UM Detroit Center to hear from community leaders who have made Detroit their home, learned how they contribute to their communities, and their work to create a more sustainable Detroit. In addition to the exceptional community leaders, we were thrilled to have UM alums as four of the six panelists including three BLI alums! The panelists discussed obstacles in their fields that they face in the movement toward sustainability, actionable steps for students wanting to get more involved in sustainable efforts or movements, and resounding advice for students as they navigate their leadership journeys. The BLI is so grateful to all the panelists. It was truly a pleasure to learn about their dedication and aspirations for the city and to share an insider lens of Detroit.

Overall, students were able to get a taste of Detroit (literally and metaphorically) and we know that it empowered our community to create waves of positive impact in their communities, as well as Detroit. Some prime takeaways from the weekend, 

“I enjoyed the panel the most… the speakers all came from vastly different backgrounds in sustainability, and it was like every single thing they said was a new nugget of wisdom. Every speaker was so honest and open to questions/connecting, and it was the perfect group of people to lead that. I learned so much about the history of Detroit and the greater issues they face while also about the hope we should have, all in a short amount of time.”

“My main takeaway is that there are many ways to engage with sustainability, and you don't have to work directly with the environment to support sustainability efforts. I also took away the beauty of Detroit and its rich history that has undergone so much turmoil and pain but has always held amazing stories and people. I plan to implement these takeaways into my future work by considering the ideas of community members before I make a decision, whether I'm working on sustainability or not.”

“There are many things being worked on in local politics that you can make an impact on. Local leaders are all working together to address issues in their community and have tight-knit relationships with each other, local representatives, and community members to do what is best for their community.”

“It's important to explore your interests and keep your passions alive, and persevere even if other people pose difficulties against them. Engage with people around you and try to get involved in the community, and build people up from local sources.”

2023 Panelists

Debbie Fisher
Special Projects Director at HOPE Village Revitalization 

Debbie Fisher currently serves as the Special Projects Director of HOPE Village Revitalization, a community development corporation. HOPE Village Revitalization envisions a sustainable, equitable, healthy neighborhood with a high quality of life for all, where neighbors have access to fresh and local food and affordable, quality housing with energy solutions that reduce utility costs and build resilience against climate change. Debbie has been with HVR since its inception, and prior to that served the HOPE Village community for 17 years in various capacities at Focus: HOPE. 

Hanan Ali Yahya
Project Manager, Joe Louis Greenway at City of Detroit

Hanan Ali Yahya is a first-generation Yemeni-American raised in Detroit. She graduated from the University of Michigan in 2017 where she studied Urban Studies, Leadership, and Entrepreneurship and was a Senior Fellow on the first BLI student leadership team! Hanan is currently a Project Manager for the Joe Louis Greenway project in the City of Detroit. The Joe Louis Greenway is a 30-mile recreational trail that will unify and catalyze Detroit’s neighborhoods, people, and parks. 

Detra Iverson
Farmer, Love N Labor Botanicals

As a member of the Detroit Food Policy Council, Detra Iverson is passionate about building a more equitable and self-sustaining food system for the City of Detroit and its occupants through organizational programs and legislation. As a BIPOC farmer and small business owner, Detra’s ties to the community through urban agriculture and maternal-infant health allow her to educate and spread awareness of issues that are currently impacting the successful development of Detroit’s youth and the financial independence of its adults. Her business Love N Labor Farm is committed to serving others through the cultivation, preparation, and sales of locally-grown produce and value-added products. 

Logan Applebee
Director of Community Engagement for Green Living Science

A U-M alum, Logan studied Environmental and Urban Studies and was an active BLI member. Currently, Logan serves as the Director of Community Engagement at Green Living Science, which is dedicated to working alongside Detroiters to increase recycling participation and awareness of environmental issues and personal responsibility through education. Logan has previously worked as an educator focused on climate change, waste, and environmental justice, and he has consulted on community engagement for climate action plans in Detroit and Washtenaw County.

Donavan McKinney
State Representative, Michigan’s 14th District

Donavan McKinney is a lifelong Detroiter. He was raised by his mother and grandmother, who taught him the importance of community, leadership, and service. He is a proud product of Detroit Public Schools and a graduate of the University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy and a former BLI member. State Rep. Donavan McKinney is serving his first term representing the 14th House District and was appointed to serve on the House Appropriations Committee and as majority vice chair of the Subcommittees on the Department of Corrections and the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. His priorities while in office are increasing access to health care, ensuring every child in Michigan receives a quality education, improving the criminal justice system, and securing the rights of unions and workers.