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MELANCA CLARK

President & CEO

A year ago, I came to the Hudson-Webber Foundation as its new President and CEO.  New not only to my position, but to the city of Detroit, I was inspired by Detroiters’ innovativeness and resilience, awed by the pace of recovery in the city, and yet troubled by its unevenness.

It is undoubtedly an exciting time to be in Detroit.  The city has exited a historic municipal bankruptcy, and the public sector has added layers of capacity to support citywide revitalization.

There are cranes throughout Greater Downtown, vibrant cultural attractions, and a new light rail connecting Downtown to the North End, where anchor institutions have served an important role in stabilizing surrounding neighborhoods and attracting many new businesses and residents.  The steep population decline in the city has slowed, and there has been job growth since the Great Recession.

The Hudson-Webber Foundation has played a vital role in this revitalization, supporting organizations and institutions at the forefront of efforts to change the trajectory of Detroit through a difficult era in the city’s history.  Building on the legacy and enduring commitment of the Hudson and Webber families, the Foundation has consistently championed a narrative of hope and possibility about Detroit that has helped to catalyze progress.

Despite the many visible signs of the city’s recovery, as well as that recovery’s increasing pace, it is still precarious.  Our city remains plagued by extreme concentrated poverty, poor educational outcomes, violence, and blight.

Against this backdrop, engaged and committed Hudson-Webber Foundation trustees and staff took the opportunity to reflect on past lessons learned and to consider the Foundation’s role in the future of Detroit - we asked ourselves the question, how can we help ensure that a culture of inclusion and equity permeates efforts to improve the quality of life in Detroit, and that residents have a role in shaping their own future?

We embarked on a months-long strategic review, which sought input from grantees, community partners, local government leaders, and the philanthropic community.  Our process and planning was grounded in a recognition that for Detroit’s recovery to come to fruition and be sustainable, all residents need to be integrated into and benefit from the economic progress of the city.

During this process, we developed four guiding principles to inform the Foundation’s grantmaking:

  1. Empower human capital.
  2. Stimulate the vitality of place.
  3. Seek innovative approaches that lead to increased prosperity for new and existing Detroiters.
  4. Address persistent racial inequities and structural barriers to opportunity.

These principles seek to link economic growth strategies with those that intentionally connect people and communities to opportunity, as well as acknowledge structural barriers that impede progress for a vast majority of Detroiters.

We reshaped our four mission areas in the following ways to align with this new approach.

Our “Economic Development” mission area is now “Community and Economic Development,” and acknowledges that there is a vital connection between physical place, economic activity and opportunity. Our investments in this mission area seek to support civic efforts that provide high quality jobs for all Detroiters, strengthen neighborhoods to provide opportunities and quality of life for residents, and help achieve stable racial and economic diversity and interconnectedness.

Our “Physical Revitalization” mission area is now “Built Environment,” a name that better characterizes the Foundation’s investments that build on neighborhood strength and are future oriented. For these projects, the visible physical change of the environment is the lead driver of broader desired outcomes. Investments in this mission area support work that Detroiters are doing today to reimagine the city’s built environment as one of inclusivity, diversity, accessibility, and connectedness.

Our “Safe Communities” mission area is now “Safe and Just Communities.” This new name acknowledges the “supply side” of public safety, recognizing the severe and entrenched problems within the criminal justice system that disproportionately affect communities of color and trap large swaths of Detroiters in cycles of poverty and crime.  Investments in this mission area support innovative, racially equitable strategies that reduce crime and victimization and that improve community well-being.

Our “Arts” mission area, is now “Arts and Culture.” Our investments in this area will continue to support the capacity of arts and cultural organizations to deliver quality, accessible, and engaging cultural programming. We also seek to increase the diversity of voices reflected in the sector, and to support arts and culture projects that contribute to the health and vitality of Detroit and its neighborhoods.

We also have added a new programmatic area of focus, “Policy and Research” which provides a home for the variety of activities the Foundation will support that are aimed at aligning local and state policy, and public-sector resources, with the desired outcomes of the Foundation’s mission and vision.  The creation of this area of focus acknowledges that achieving the desired pace and magnitude of community change often requires structural changes that can be brought about only through policy decisions.  Sound policies must be informed by sound, credible research as well as championed by advocates that can lend a voice to achieve the desired change.

We welcome and look forward to your input and suggestions as we begin to implement and operationalize our new strategic framework and objectives.

I want to express my gratitude to the many partners across the philanthropic, nonprofit, public, and private sectors that have taken the time to sit down with me and share their insights.   Thank you for welcoming me to the Hudson-Webber Foundation and to this great city. I look forward to the work that we will do together.

 

-Melanca Clark