Detroit Community Leadership Initiative

More than anything, I've learned to work across difference in a constructive and democratic way. The Detroit Leadership group has taught me the importance of slow thoughtful progress, and that the results are only as good as the process.

-Noam Kimelman

Jews have been part of Detroit’s social and economic fabric for more than two centuries, but with the decline that began in the late 1960s the Jewish population dwindled as well.  By 2008 just one synagogue remained in a city that had once been home to more than 40.

Today, drawn by inexpensive housing, vacant land available for urban farming and other uses, and the potential for civic, economic, social and cultural gains, Detroit is increasingly attracting talented outsiders and returnees. Many of them are young Jews who, cognizant of the city’s Jewish history, are eager to roll up their sleeves and work with Detroit’s diverse communities in forging new ideas and finding solutions to longstanding problems.

We believe that the Jewish community can and should play a role in rebuilding Detroit, in partnership with the many people and community organizations that remained and persisted when so many abandoned the city. In 2011 Bend the Arc launched the Detroit Community Leadership Initiative to bring together young Jews living in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Lansing and the Detroit suburbs who have evinced a strong commitment to advancing social and economic justice. Our goal is to create a group of effective Jewish social justice leaders who will support and collaborate with each other for the benefit of Detroit for many years to come.

In partnership with the University of Michigan’s Jewish Communal Leadership Program, through a rigorous application process we recruited 19 women and men between the ages of 25 and 38 for 18 months of leadership and management training. They include Jewish attorneys, authors, social entrepreneurs, rabbis, teachers, and the founders and leaders of local advocacy and service organizations. Through their participation in our program they are bound by a common experience and vision, and are able to support each other in ways that will help sustain their commitment to building a more just society over the long haul. This is especially important in light of the fact that, without a support network, two-thirds of nonprofit leaders burn out within five years – long before they can bring their work to fruition.

In addition to the intensive training we provide to participants over the year and a half they are in the program, they receive technical support and assistance from a graduate student from the Jewish Communal Leadership Program. At the conclusion of the 18 months of training and exploration, the group will have designed a project to carry out together for the benefit of the city – stay tuned!

The Detroit Leadership Initiative is rooted in the same belief that underpins much of our work: that by transforming individuals and supporting leaders we can help transform society and hold America to its promise as a nation of opportunity and justice for all. The broadest goals of this program are to support and sustain Detroit’s Jewish leaders in creating a more just world, to nurture the city’s overlapping Jewish and social justice communities, and to contribute to the revitalization of Detroit.

Bend the Arc’s work in Detroit is generously supported by the Jewish Fund. 

The Jewish Fund

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