Of all the programs and initiatives designed to invite talented young professionals to work in Detroit, most desire a simple outcome: that those people, whether they come from somewhere else or are natives to Detroit, stay and continue to make an impact while building a life in the city.
Such has been the case with Regina Ann Campbell, Beau Taylor, and Bradford Frost. All three were Detroit Revitalization Fellows, a Wayne State University leadership program
that selects mid-career professionals to help stimulate growth in Detroit’s civic, community, and economic development sectors. The fellows work full time with partner organizations as part of their two year commitment.
Campbell, Taylor, and Frost were part of the first cohort of fellows
, which began in 2011 and ended in 2013. They remained in Detroit after the fellowship term ended, and all three continue to work in the city.
Serving the underserved
Having grown up in a Detroit neighborhood anchored by the commercial district at Grand River and Greenfield, Regina Ann Campbell remembers a community with amenities – a place where her family could walk to shop, where she could ride her bike, and where public transportation was reliable enough to get people to destinations outside of the immediate area.
"Since I was a teenager I wanted to be part of helping Detroit 'come back,' so to speak," Campbell says. "This is what I was envisioning long before I ever obtained the degrees or knowledge of urban planning and economic development. All I knew was I wanted to bring my city back to vibrancy."
After graduating from Cooley High, Campbell attended Western Michigan University, where she majored in psychology and African American Studies. Next she earned a master's in social work at Wayne State, then another in urban and regional planning from the University of Michigan. She's on track to get an MBA in accounting this December from the University of Phoenix.
Regina Ann Campbell at her desk in TechTown
As a fellow, Campbell was Milwaukee Junction business manager for Vanguard CDC
in the city's North End. She now works for TechTown Detroit
, where she is managing director of place-based entrepreneurship. Her duties include writing grants, managing funding, and running the day-to-day operations of the SWOT City and Retail Boot Camp
Campbell says her lifelong relationship with Detroit gives her a historical perspective on what can be done to revitalize the city.
"Quite frankly I know Detroit, its neighborhoods, its culture," she says. "I have the ability to understand and communicate effectively across, class, race, gender, religion and so on, meeting people where they are."
Campbell says that she's seen positive changes in city since she began the fellowship in 2011.
"There's been an upswing in opportunities for urban planning professionals in the economic development space," she says. "There's been economic development in Midtown and downtown, the East Jefferson corridor, and along the waterfront and the Dequindre Cut."
What else can Detroit do to improve the quality of life for its residents?
"We need to develop more active spaces for families, and improving the schools is a must," Campbell says. "We need more mixed-income housing in stronger markets like downtown and Midtown and to create businesses and jobs in underserved neighborhoods. This is where SWOT City comes into play.
"I want to see people in the city be able to walk to the corner store like I did when I was growing up here. That's one of my goals."
Keeping the lights on
After graduating from Michigan State University, Beau Taylor headed to New York City, earning an MBA from the Stern School of Business at New York University. He spent most of the next seven years in Iraq, Afghanistan and Central Asia (including 18 months in Tajikistan with MBAs Without Borders
), a world away from his hometown of Jackson, Mich.
In 2010, ready for a new challenge, Taylor came back to Michigan. He applied for a spot in the fellowship's first cohort
and was accepted the following year. He began working in the office of the chief operating officer for the City of Detroit and later became director of the city's Public Lighting Department
, a position he still holds.
Beau Taylor at his desk at the Public Lighting Department in downtown Detroit
As a fellow, Taylor worked in an advisory role. Now he is on the operations side, a role that eventually will be phased out as the city cedes control of its public lighting grid, which provides power to several institutional customers like City Airport and Cobo Center, to DTE Energy.
"Though it is planned obsolescence and I won't have a job in three years, I still consider mine to be the coolest job and best opportunity of all the fellows," Taylor says. "I'm helping to put together a framework that will improve life in the city in a big way. I feel very, very lucky."
After being away from the state and working half way around the world since 2003, Taylor acquired some valuable -- and often unpopular, he says -- perspectives on Detroit when he landed here.
"There was all this talk of the sexy redevelopment going on in Midtown and downtown, but not much talk about the neighborhoods. It reminded me of the capital cities in Central Asia, where the people staying at the Hyatt were doing alright but right outside the city there was no running water or electricity."
Taylor says he believes there is now greater attention paid to neighborhoods, something he attributes to policies introduced by Mayor Duggan's administration.
"I really appreciate that about the mayor," he says. "His focus is on all the people who live here, not just on a few."
The biggest challenge facing the mayor and the city of Detroit, Taylor says, is creating an environment that helps brings jobs here for more people -- not just college-educated professionals.
"Over the next five years I'd like see more jobs training programs and more manufacturing come to Detroit. It could be new tech, solar, or wind, but we have to make the city attractive for companies that would create jobs for lots of people. We have the affordable land to do it. We need to make it happen."
No to Washington, yes to Detroit
Originally from Essex, Conn., Bradford Frost first came to Detroit in 2005 to do a one-year fellowship with United Way, then left four years later to attend graduate school at the Fletcher School at Tufts University just outside of Boston. Instead of the international career he thought he wanted, Frost came back to Detroit and now works for a nonprofit community development financial group in New Center.
While some of his classmates at the Fletcher School set their sights on working for the U.S. State Department and other high-level national and international postings, for a second time Bradford Frost chose Detroit. He came back here for the WSU Revitalization Fellowship, and, when his two-year commitment was over, he stayed.
"Detroit is home for me," Frost says. "Bottom line: I believe the revitalization work in Detroit is the most important task available anywhere in this country."
Bradford Frost inside his office in New Center
As a fellow, Frost worked in the office of the director/CEO of the Detroit Institute of Arts
, wrote the grant that brought in over $268,000 to help redesign the museum's Kresge Court into a "Cultural Living Room
," and wrote a book, Reveal Your Detroit: An Intimate Look at a Great American City
, published just after he concluded his work at the DIA.
Frost is now director of the Detroit Corridor Initiative
, a group that offers long-term, fixed rate loans with competitive terms for the building and renovation of mixed-use properties along the Woodward, Livernois/McNichols, and East Jefferson corridors. The program is led by Capital Impact
, a nonprofit community development financial institution headquartered in Arlington, VA with offices in Oakland, CA and Detroit.
From the time he was first drawn to Detroit in 2005 to the present, Frost says he's been driven by "a social justice mission." Before he came back here in 2011 to begin his revitalization fellowship, he turned down a Presidential Management Fellowship
post in Washington D.C.
"[I wanted to] contribute my share to the generation-long task of revitalizing this city arm in arm with long-time residents and anyone else who wants to build their livelihood here."
How does Frost see the near-future in Detroit?
"We can't be afraid of the truth. The scale of Detroit's challenges remain enormous: 63,000 parcels will go into tax foreclosure this year; 33 percent of the population lives in poverty; 40 percent or worse are functionally illiterate. There are 70,000 blighted structures.
"But there is a strong and devoted civic network, a ripening entrepreneurial class, a more vibrant greater downtown that is the center of jobs," he says. "There is a depth of conviction here about the place and its potential: it's a city of builders not climbers, a merit-based community where tenacity beats brains. This town inspires me. I will stay in Detroit as long as she'll have me and continue to contribute in my small way to the city's future."
Support for this series is provided by Detroit Revitalization Fellows, a program of Wayne State University. This is the third article in a four-part Model D series. Read the first one here, and the second one here. Detroit Revitalization Fellows is currently recruiting for its third cohort. The application period opens on Jan. 26. Go here to learn more.
Words and pictures by Walter Wasacz.