In early April, the BLI held an annual weekend retreat to Detroit. The weekend was a year-long project by a team of Applied Leadership Fellows, seniors Bailey Redler and Ananya Mangla, who curated a weekend of leadership and fellowship for the 23 undergraduate participants. As a BLI LEARN Experience, one of the goals was to provide a space for students to have an immersive BLI experience off campus while practicing their leadership skills through an intensive weekend of intentional activities and shared learning experiences.

During this retreat, students heard from leaders who have made Detroit their home and learned how they contribute to their communities and use technology to make a lasting social impact. The retreat featured leadership learning visits to iconic Detroit institutions, and unique-to-Detroit restaurants, and engaged in group activities and reflections. Participants took a tour through the city’s architectural treasures, discovered distinctive artwork at stops along the People Mover, sang Karaoke at the original Shields Pizza surrounded by Detroit sports relics, tasted their way through the specialties of the Eastern Market, viewed a multisensory manufacturing innovation exhibit, toured a working factory, listened to live jazz at Cliff Bells, dined in a structure constructed using 21 refurbished shipping containers, and during a community leader panel at the GM RenCen had unobstructed views of Windsor and the Detroit River. 

We asked the attendees,

After spending a weekend in Detroit on this LEARN experience, what is your BLI community takeaway?

One of the most important community takeaways I have is that there is something to be gained from interacting with anyone and everyone. Regardless of background, identity, socioeconomic status, or perceived merits, every person has within them something to share that can change your perspective and, in turn, your life if you simply humble yourself and allow yourself to learn from them.

I learned that community is more multifaceted than I imagined. After immersing myself in the environment and seeing different aspects of Detroit, there are so many nuances and historical details to be discovered. I now know that without seeing the area and culture in person, along with talking to locals, you cannot truly understand a community.

The Detroit retreat was a prime example of the power of community building. Take the Eastern Market, for instance. It's not just a place to shop—it's a vibrant community hub where people from all walks of life come together. The sense of camaraderie and warmth there is palpable, with strangers striking up conversations like old friends. It's this spirit of inclusivity and connection that makes the Detroit retreat so special. Whether exploring the city's cultural landmarks or simply sharing meals and stories, we were able to forge meaningful connections and feel a sense of belonging. Through community-building activities, people can tap into a support network, gain new perspectives, and ultimately, feel more connected and fulfilled!

Throughout this weekend, I had the opportunity to meet other BLI members and learn about their goals and aspirations. This experience drove me to focus on the BLI habit of Pause and Reflect as I participated in group conversations as well as did some individual reflecting on what I want my "work" to be and how that can have a sustainable impact on communities. I also enjoyed meeting new people from diverse backgrounds. I hope to stay connected with them in the future!

What did you learn about the theme "Using Technology for Social Good"?

I learned that technological advancement and promoting the well-being of a society does not have to be mutually exclusive. The best kind of technology is that which considers all members within society; if it does not, it is not worth implementing. During the walking tour, the guide provided much information about the architectural history of the city and the various buildings that were constructed that supported the people of the city in old and new times. Incorporating elements in buildings that offer accessibility for elderly and disabled persons, and memorialize aspects of Indigenous and African American communities and histories are some examples of how this technology is aptly implemented to benefit and acknowledge all members of society equally and respectfully.

A key learning point on this topic came from the concept of resistance to change. In the past, I didn't consider too much the implications of change in a community. I learned more about how people are not always accepting of change as well as ways to create change that truly addresses the problems of the community rather than change for the sake of change. This comes through listening to and understanding deeply the concerns and priorities of a community, coming to the table from a position of compassion and humility.

Visiting the Henry Ford Factory was an experience that left a lasting impression on me surrounding this topic! Stepping into such a historic place, where innovation and industry have thrived for generations, was truly remarkable. Learning about the factory's role throughout the Great Depression added a fascinating layer of context to its significance. In a time of immense economic hardship, the Henry Ford Factory stood as a beacon of resilience that provided jobs that sustained communities across the nation. Walking through the factory, I couldn't help but feel a sense of awe at the scale of operations and the legacy of innovation that permeated every corner. It was a reminder of the power of human perseverance and the enduring impact of visionary leaders like Henry Ford!

What stood out to you about the community and its leaders?

One of the most striking aspects of my immersive weekend in Detroit was the palpable energy and passion of its community members and leaders. Everywhere I went, whether it was exploring the historic Henry Ford Factory, taking a tour of the city's iconic architecture, or simply enjoying a lively karaoke session, there was an undeniable sense of enthusiasm and pride in the air. People were genuinely excited to share their love for Detroit and its rich cultural heritage, and their passion was infectious. It was evident that the city's leaders were deeply committed to fostering a sense of belonging and empowerment among residents, creating spaces and opportunities for connection and expression. Whether through preserving historical landmarks or supporting local arts and culture, Detroit's leaders played a vital role in nurturing a vibrant and inclusive community!

What changes in your habits or future plans might you make because of this experience?

One piece of advice that stuck with me and which aligns with the BLI habits is that there is no right time to start and that one can always start small. I tend to put off doing things that involve uncertainty or risk, even when their outcome can be beneficial. I plan on starting small and working on things that I have always wanted to do in the future. Additionally, I was once again reminded of the importance of giving back to my community. Although this is a significant part of my values, I often get so preoccupied with my daily work and tasks that I don't take the time to consider the impact I am making. I hope to be more mindful of this in the future and will seek ways to give back as I transition to graduate life and full-time work.

- My weekend in Detroit, particularly at the Eastern Market, highlighted the importance of taking time for meaningful interactions and practicing kindness. The atmosphere of the market, filled with friendly vendors and enthusiastic shoppers and musicians, demonstrated the power of human connection and community. Inspired by these interactions, I'm determined to incorporate more moments of genuine engagement and generosity into my daily life. Whether it's offering a smile, striking up a conversation, or extending a helping hand, I want to contribute to creating spaces where everyone feels welcomed and valued.

The defining moment of the weekend was on Sunday morning, the 23 students joined a panel of community leaders from across the city with connections to the weekend’s topics of Using Technology for Social Good. We are extremely grateful for their invaluable contributions that helped make the retreat a success and must give a special thanks to our panelists, Donavan McKinney, James McRae, Marvin Yates, Trista Van Tine, Christina Fair, Johnnie Turnage, and Jason Dixon. The impact they had on our students was tremendous, and attendees expressed that the speaker panel was one of the most valuable experiences of the retreat! 

Something that was really solidified during the Detroit Panel was this idea of making your work something you're passionate about, and that taking the steps to get there is something that can be done in a gradual manner, no matter where you may currently be right now. Everyone we've talked to has taken those steps, and it really motivated me to figure out what those steps might be for me.

I was really inspired by how these leaders were committed to giving back to the community that they came from. It showed me how important it is to remember the people and communities that help you grow in your journey of life and contribute to making those communities better places. 

Listening to our speakers made me aware of how quickly life changes and that where I end up in the future could be completely different than I expect. A change I will make is trying to be more aware of what I truly enjoy. I want to make sure I am not just collecting badges, but instead making an effort to help others and find passion in my work.

Overall, this student-powered retreat was an unforgettable combination of urban exploration, community building, and leadership learning.