Revitalization fellow uses her own Detroit experience working with city's youth

Regina Ann Campbell wants to make one thing clear--she’s been a Detroiter all along.  

She’s excited that many young professionals are moving to Detroit. And with Master’s degrees in both urban planning and social work, as well as experience in economic development, nonprofit organizations, community planning, college teaching and government, she looks forward to working with them to boost the city’s prospects. 
"I welcome all the new people--I don’t think of them as outsiders because I know they’ll come to love Detroit," she says. "But it is important for them to understand they are building on some things that have been going on here for years. I want to help them appreciate the city through the eyes of the people who have lived here."

She grew up on the city’s Northwest side and remembers, "My folks would take us downtown and around many neighborhoods, and I enjoyed how vibrant the city was. Then, when I was a teenager, things started to change. But I’ve always believed Detroit could be great again, and that’s why I stayed. I thought about moving to New York, but Detroit had a pull on me." 

Campbell was named as one of 29 Detroit Revitalization Fellows as part of program run by Wayne State University with funding by Kresge FoundationFord FoundationHudson-Webber Foundation and the Skillman Foundation. The Fellows program matches rising professionals with organizations working at the forefront of Detroit revitalization efforts. Since September 2011, 29 Fellows have been working in key positions throughout the city. Nine of the Fellows selected out of 647 applicants from 48 states were already in the area, and half of the others had previously lived in Detroit. 

She is Director of the Milwaukee Junction Business Center in the city’s North End, where she oversees all operations ranging from implementation of business development practices to data analysis and strategic partnerships. Her goal is to build the capacity of the business center to support start-up companies and small businesses, as well as, facilitate and engage in business outreach activities for North End Detroit Business owners.  

"Small businesses stimulate revitalization," she says. "That's where the jobs are for our residents." 

Milwaukee Junction Business Center is a program of the Vanguard Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit agency launched in 1994 by the Second Ebenezer Church. Executive Director Scott Alan Davis describes Vanguard as "a holistic CDC pursuing multiple interests -- from economic development to education. We do community organizing. We sponsor a business incubator. We place volunteers. We help people returning from incarceration."

Davis says Campbell possesses precisely the right combination of skills to run the business incubator -- entrepreneurial instincts and a proven ability to get things off the ground.

The first among her siblings to go to college, she earned a psychology degree at Western Michigan University and came back to work at the Detroit-Wayne County Community Mental Health agency and then as a legislative analyst for the late Detroit City Council President Maryann Mahaffey and as a community planner for United Way Community Services. Somehow she found the time to earn Master’s degrees in social work at Wayne State, and in urban and regional planning at the University of Michigan. She currently teaches online courses in Financial Management and Health & Wellness for the University of Phoenix.

Despite her lifelong loyalty to Detroit, Campbell lived for nine years in Southfield. She explains that her husband was from Flint and wasn’t sure about living in the city. "I never felt at home in the suburbs," she confesses. "When my son was born I would take him out for walks in the stroller -- but the town just wasn’t designed for walking. You didn’t see the neighbors, they just pulled into their garages."

Three years ago, Campbell, her husband and two sons (now ages nine and five) traded their 4-bedroom suburban home for a brownstone in Detroit’s East Riverfront, and now they live in Lafayette Park. "I feel more at home and my husband loves where we are."

Campbell’s thrilled about biking with the boys along the riverfront, going to movies at the Renaissance, sampling the downtown restaurants, visiting Eastern Market and being engaged in activities and programs at Chrysler Elementary School, which her sons attend.

"I want my kids to have what I had when I was growing up in Detroit," she says.

Jay Walljasper, author of The Great Neighborhood Book and All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons, is a Senior Associate with Citiscope and Senior Fellow with Project for Public Spaces.
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