There are a lot of remarkable things about Ezekiel Harris.
The 24 year old Flint native graduated with a degree in political science from the University of Michigan—
and a semester early, no less. Harris plays the Right Back position for Detroit City FC
, the local semi-professional soccer team. He's worked at Big Brothers Big Sisters in Flint. He started a crowdfunding consultant company called Crowd Flint.
He's also a former Challenge Detroit
Fellow, which is what initially brought him to the city. As a fellow, Harris was part of the team that launched United Way X, a research and development division within United Way here in Detroit. He was later named a senior fellow at Challenge Detroit. Yet for all these accomplishments, perhaps none is more remarkable than the fact that Harris was named executive director of MACC Development
before his 24th birthday, becoming one of the youngest executive directors in the local non-profit sector.
In the Community Development Corporation world, Harris's peers are more likely to be twice his age than they are to be anywhere near it. But it's his youth, Harris believes, that will only benefit the neighborhoods of the 48214, the zip code that is the focus area of MACC.
"It's the perfect time to start not only looking at the best practices, but the next practices," says Harris.
Challenge Detroit prepared Harris to take on MACC at such a young age, a sort of masters degree program in non-profit leadership and social impact work. The numerous projects in which he took part, the community leaders he met throughout the city, and the networks he was able to build all prepared Harris for leadership. And he's still involved with Challenge Detroit today, having just wrapped up a five-week challenge in which he led 42 Challenge Detroit Fellows working on community development in the 48214.
MACC has three focus areas: youth and education, housing and blight, and economic development. It's an economically diverse area that MACC represents. While the commercial districts of West Village continue to grow and attract new businesses, others, like the Pingree Park neighborhood, have yet to see the same level of development occurring on Agnes and Kercheval streets. Harris believes that instead of waiting for change, organizations like his must push for it.
It's one of the reasons he's so excited for The Commons
, a 12,000 sq. ft. building located at 7900 Mack Ave. The Commons will be a laundromat, coffee shop, and community center all in one. A general lack of laundromats in the neighborhood is an opportunity for MACC to provide an obvious need for nearby residents. A coffee shop and the size of the space serve as a place for neighbors to meet casually or hold community meetings and other events.
Halfway through construction with a planned opening in the summer of 2017, The Commons is a business that works on multiple levels. It's an example of addressing the neighborhood's needs by asking residents what they want, rather than prescribing a solution on to them. Harris hopes it to be a domino that triggers a chain reaction of development along Mack Avenue.
"It's a risk to start any business, but it's even more of a risk to start a business in the area that we are," says Harris. "But at the end of the day, that's what non-profits should be about. We can't be afraid to take those chances because if not us, then who will?"
Ezekiel Harris, Executive Director of MACC Development
Year MACC Development opened: 2010
What is one interesting job you held before running MACC: Years before I was at MACC Development I founded a crowdfunding start-up in Flint, Michigan. I had the opportunity to meet amazing people and learned how to fail and get back up.
Who's your favorite soccer player: Theirry Henry
One of your favorite things about living in Detroit since moving here: I love that Detroit is a big little city. It's incredible how in a few short months you can meet some of the most talented, passionate people working on some of the most interesting projects in the country.