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Feb 9 /

Found in Detroit: Personal and Professional Growth


It was one of my last weeks in business school, and my professor was asking each student about job prospects post-graduation.  Some had high-figured salaries to flaunt, others were proud to name-drop the organization where they would be working, while others had mediocre jobs that were going to pay the bills. Then the spotlight came to me.  I told the class I was moving to New Orleans with no job in hand–or in mind–and with a puzzled look my professor let out a sigh and moved onto the next student.

To this day I think back on that moment and smile with great satisfaction.  After college, some buddies and I jumped in a car and drove to New Orleans to look for work. We weren’t sure what type of work we’d find, so to prepare for what was to come I was sleeping on the floor of my bedroom to prepare for the possibility of being broke and not having a bed. That was my first move away from Michigan and one that would keep me away for over eight years.

Over those eight years I lived in various cities, worked abroad, earned a master’s degree and started a family.  When I was accepted to become a Fellow I happened to be living in New Orleans, again. People would ask my wife and me where we were moving and what I’d be doing. We told them we were moving to Detroit.  Each person met our response with a puzzled look on their face and let out a sigh. The irony was not lost on me. The question on people’s mind was clearly similar to that of my professor and classmates: “What the heck are you doing?”

Returning to Detroit for the Fellowship was a unique opportunity to be connected to new people and communities with whom I didn’t interact when growing up as a Michigander.  The chance to be a part of a group of ambitious mid-career professionals, to connect projects in an attempt to improve infrastructure and to address social issues was quite alluring. To aid Fellows in their task, DRF provided mentorsand professional coaches in order to better handle difficult professional and personal decisions and build leaders out of those who chose to be part of the fellowship.

I can’t speak to my impact on others. However, during my time in Detroit, I was amazed at the impact others had on me.  My colleagues in DRF and the professional colleagues and community members I worked with triggered in me something substantial: They helped me grow into a leader.

My time back in Michigan was brief, and before I knew it I was moving onto yet another adventure. Still, one thing is for certain: I wouldn’t be where I am now without the help from the wonderful people in Detroit.


Mike Madej was a 2013-15 Detroit Revitalization Fellow at The Greening of Detroit. Mike currently works with the Peace Corps as a Regional Recruitment Supervisor in Dallas. The Detroit Revitalization Fellows (DRF) is a leadership and talent intervention for mid-career professionals seeking to engage in meaningful full-time work and leadership development over the course of two years. On January 23 the fellowship program launched the application for our next cohort. To learn more and apply visit

Jan 27 /

Opportunity is the Fabric of Innovation


A city’s revitalization must include creating opportunities and connecting all residents to opportunity in an equitable way. Equity is not just the right thing to do; it’s the best thing to do.  Individuals, organizations, cities that understand how valuable equity is likely realize the rich diversity that equity brings into existence.

The case has already been made regarding the effects of systemic racism and inequity on opportunity.  A city that does not work to address these imbalances—empowering all its residents to take advantage of opportunities—will, by default, continue to build the opportunity portfolios of the privileged, while ignoring those in less-privileged positions.

Opportunity must be robust and cannot be driven by privilege and position. It must be for ALL. By ignoring the voices of those in less-privileged positions, cities unknowingly lose out on robust infusions of innovation from those who and have been able to overcome and navigate a system of obstacles and inequity that some have never had to even consider.  A city that wants to connect all of its residents to opportunity must be egalitarian in its sociopolitical philosophy, rigorous in its resident engagement, and holistic in its execution strategy.

Opportunities that attract new residents must exist side-by-side with opportunities that appeal to existing residents.  Innovative solutions that connect all residents to opportunities can come out of sustained, focused community engagement. I say that if “necessity is the mother of invention,” then opportunity is the fabric of innovation. As with innovation, opportunity for all has to be the warp and weft of a world-class city.

Opportunity must be relevant. Not all opportunities will be relevant to all, but opportunities should be varied and diverse enough that they are attainable to all. We need intentionality in providing a plethora of opportunities across multiple sectors.

Opportunity must be relative. Opportunities should have on-ramps of participation relative to all of a city’s residents.  This can happen through dynamic school, business, and community partnerships that, among other things, expand the knowledge of residents around what is available now and in the future.

Providing economic opportunities that can only be seized by a segment of the population is to exclude some by default. It cannot be about socioeconomic position, but about seeing to it that there are pathways for individuals to begin, advance, and expand upon opportunities. There must be something for everyone.

Connecting residents to economic and other opportunities requires connecting to ALL residents. In order to create a vibrant tapestry of innovation, we must foster robust, relevant, and relative opportunity networks that include the difficult work of building inclusive relationships. Whatever is created has to be created together.

Delphia Simmons is a 2015-17 Detroit Revitalization Fellow at Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS). The Detroit Revitalization Fellows (DRF) is a leadership and talent intervention for mid-career professionals seeking to engage in meaningful full-time work and leadership development over the course of two years. On January 23 the fellowship program launched the application for our next cohort. To learn more and apply visit  A variation of this article was published at Huffington Post. 

Jan 17 /

One Detroiter’s Leadership Journey


Last week was my 5-month anniversary in the director role of the Detroit Revitalization Fellows (DRF), a program that matches talented mid-career professionals with civic, community and economic development organizations working at the forefront of Detroit’s revitalization efforts.  This is the most senior-level position in my career thus far and I am often asked about my transition to the role.  My typical response is, “I am growing more comfortable in the position every day,” which is true.  Like many emerging leaders, my leadership journey has not progressed as I imagined it would when I was a journalism student at Wayne State University.  Life happened, my career interests evolved, I returned to school for my master’s degree, took risks, failed and pivoted.

As the newness of 2017 begins to dissipate, now is a good time to pause, reflect and look forward to the limitless possibilities that await us both personally and professionally.  I choose to believe there are numerous opportunities to learn and grow all around us if we are simply open to it.  What I know is that we witness leadership everyday whether we acknowledge it or not. For those of us who are parents, our children’s teachers role model leadership. We see it at our favorite coffee shop, at home with our spouse or partner and when our neighbor distributes flyers for the block club meeting.  These are all acts of leadership.

At the Detroit Revitalization Fellows, we value all types of leadership experiences.  As an interdisciplinary and inclusive leadership/talent intervention, we are focused on developing a network of urban leaders who will drive positive, systemic impacts while personally and professionally nurturing inclusivity and equity.  DRF adds to our Fellows’ leadership toolbox by equipping them with thoughtful experiences that increase their leadership capacity, regardless of their role in an organization.  Leaders are learners.

I strive to learn something new every day and have attended numerous workshops and trainings to expand my skill set. My desire for continuous improvement coupled with a thirst for knowledge helped guide me to where I am today.  While I do not have a traditional civic, economic or community development background, I have been open to learning about this landscape locally, regionally and nationally.  Like the Fellows in our program, I apply an interdisciplinary approach to my work.

Some leadership lessons are learned in a classroom, others are gleaned on the job and then there are those that come with wisdom.  I offer these to other emerging leaders:  take risks; embrace challenges; be as authentic and fearless as you can; never be afraid or too arrogant to apologize; protect and advocate for your team; ALWAYS say thank you, share credit and externally take the blame; listen (for real!); practice balance (your colleagues and family will thank you for it); and laugh every day.  The phrase “work hard, stay humble” are on my office wall and this philosophy serves me well as I navigate my new role.

No matter where you are on your leadership journey, I invite you to be open to opportunities like the Detroit Revitalization Fellows.  Next week, DRF will launch the Fellow application for our fourth cohort.  The application opens January 23 and will close February 10, click here to learn more and attend an upcoming information session.

All the best.

Asandi Conner is the Director of The Detroit Revitalization Fellows (DRF). DRF is a leadership and talent intervention for mid-career professionals seeking to engage in meaningful full-time work and leadership development over the course of two years. On January 23 the fellowship program will launch the application for our next cohort. To learn more and apply visit