Community Engagement!

‘On The Table’ Event Pairs Food with Food for Thought

Downtown Boxing Gym students had an important seat at the table for a community engagement discussion and dinner focused on finding solutions.

The library in the back corner of the Downtown Boxing Gym gym served as the perfect backdrop for a dinner dedicated to learning. Several of our students joined invited guests to break bread Oct. 4 as part of On The Table, a community engagement initiative organized by the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan in partnership with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The event included a delicious meal from Rachael’s Corner, the Downtown Boxing Gym's kitchen, and some real talk as students described conditions in their neighborhoods.

There was talk of blight, drugs, homelessness, and a lack of mentors. The group also shared ideas that could lead to positive change — community gardens, parks with better programming and people to supervise them, hands-on workshops to engage young people in things like carpentry or building, and better schools.

“It’s basically like a food chain,” said Rakeem, a student at Western International High School who boxes and spends time producing music in our studio. “Kids catch on to what they hang around.”

Zaria, Pershing High graduate loves to make music and music videos. She said she sees too many people in the city who expect someone else to help improve their lot in life.

“A person’s not going to help you if you can’t help yourself,” she said. “And a lot of people can’t help themselves.”

The event sparked plenty of two-way conversation that inspired the students. Clifford Brown, one of our board members, is a local real estate developer who owns Woodborn Partners. He told the group about growing up in nearby Toledo, Ohio, and moving to Detroit in 2002. He worked a job at Ford during the day while he studied how to become a real estate broker by night.

Todd Scott, executive director of the nonprofit Detroit Greenways Coalition, talked about his career switch from software, after he grew frustrated knowing that the software he developed would be updated and discarded almost as soon as it was completed. He now runs an organization that helps cities including Detroit find funding to build bike lanes, trails and other infrastructure.

“I know there’s a chance that the things that are getting built will last a long, long time,” Scott said.

That idea of finding a way to make a positive difference particularly appealed to Zaria.

“I wanna start my legacy here [in Detroit],” she said.

Similar on The Table discussions took place across the region. Community Foundation staff will gather information from event hosts — like the Downtown Boxing Gym — survey participants, and publish a report highlighting the ideas, conversations, themes and outcomes that emerged from the discussions.

Thank you to all who joined our tables!

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