BLAC Detroit Magazine's 2015 Black Power Couples in Detroit
Our pick of couples in Detroit that turn heads and create positive change in the Motor City
How do you identify a Detroit power couple?
The definitions can vary dramatically, but in our view it has very little to do with vast amounts of wealth. Power equals influence, and in a power couple, both spouses wield it.
It may be in dissemination of information, motivating others on behalf of nonprofits or making critical decisions for educational institutions. It could be preserving the city's history or helping lay a foundation for its future. Entrepreneurism, health care, the digital universe—a commitment to these disciplines can be a potent force on behalf of Detroit.
Let us introduce you to some couples that fit the bill. Some names you may know well, some you may not be familiar with—yet. But in each case, both husband and wife are making an impact on the everyday lives of Detroiters.
Michelle and Dave Anderson
For a couple in their 20s, Michelle and Dave Anderson already can claim they have been to the mountaintop—literally.
"We love to travel, and last year I really wanted to go to Japan. So we climbed Mount Fuji on Dave's birthday," recounts Michelle, digital marketing manager for MGM Grand Detroit casino and board member of Healthy Detroit.
"And we went to Japan with no plans, nothing. We just landed and said, 'We'll figure this out,'" adds Dave, entrepreneur, co-founder of the unique downtown co-working space Bamboo Detroit and board member of the Detroit Historical Society. "We've never had a problem with language barriers or anything before. There … it's a little different."
So different that the couple misread the signposts and took the most treacherous trail up Japan's highest mountain. "To make matters worse, we started climbing at 6 p.m. and two hours later it was pitch black," Dave recalls. "And at the base of the mountain the temperature was 80 degrees; as we went up, it dropped to about 20. It was freezing."
It's that kind of caution-to-the-wind spirit that inspired Dave, 28, to leave a successful management career at Robert Bosch Battery Systems, LLC, in Orion, Michigan in April 2012 to launch Detroit's largest members-only shared workspace and business incubator. "Initially I never intended this to be my full-time job," Dave says of Bamboo, named for the plant that's among the world's fastest growing and strongest. At Bosch, he started going to a lot of entrepreneurial events.
"Pretty soon I'm hearing all these entrepreneurs saying, 'Hey, I'm starting this company, where can we meet? Let's go to Starbucks!' I've always been intrigued with the concept of a co-working space because I felt like you get this experience in college where you're with all of these great minds and, unless you go to work for a think tank or Google, you're never going to replicate that again."
College is where this pair's love blossomed as fellow Wolverines at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, but the Andersons first met in high school in Southfield. "I sat directly behind Michelle and we were really good friends from day one," Dave says. "I actually remember the exact date we met."
"Was it the first day of school?" Michelle guesses.
"Yes, exactly," Dave admits, laughing.
Married five years, the Detroit natives decided to sell their first house in Lathrup Village and return to the city. "This is where our activities are," says Michelle, 27, "and wanting to support the revitalization of the city, it just made sense to be close to it."
"I always say, 'Detroit is large enough to matter to the world but small enough for you to matter within it,'" echoes Dave. "I feel Detroit is a very unique place at a very unique time. Honestly, I don't see how we lived in the suburbs for so long."
In her role at Detroit's first casino, Michelle is responsible for MGM Grand's social media, online presence and supports its corporate partners in Las Vegas. But she feels her board position with Healthy Detroit is no gamble.
"We're commissioned under the (federal) Affordable Care Act, an organization striving to help people in Detroit make healthier choices," she explains. "We're working on a series of projects, like HealthParks. With the parks and recreation department, we're looking at parks that have been desolate, restoring them and making them places the community can go for health education as well as movement and activity."
Michelle assists Dave at Bamboo Detroit, which now has 80 clients (including Healthy Detroit) who pay monthly for 24/7 office access, Wi-Fi, a mailing address and more. Dave also founded healthy eating startup Health Crunch and serves as chief strategy and planning officer of Detroit-based tech company Lavish Line Labs, Inc. In his spare time, he's immersed in Detroit history.
"I met the president of the historical society at a Tigers game and he said, 'You know, my entire board is old and White,'" Dave says, laughing. "So now I'm known for throwing out all these crazy ideas, but they have been very receptive."
And in case you're wondering: Dave and Michelle reached the summit of Mount Fuji to see the sunrise. "The view at the top was amazing," Michelle marvels. They won't see it again. "There's a saying about Mount Fuji," says Dave. "'Climb it once and you're a smart man: climb it twice and you're a fool.'"
Priscilla and Huel Perkins
The spirit of volunteerism not only helped propel Priscilla Perkins into her current, critical position as chief development officer for Lighthouse of Oakland County, it also once paved the way for her to meet, and eventually marry, a dashing young Baton Rouge TV newscaster named Huel.
It's a family name, Huel—and years before Priscilla ever met her husband-to-be she knew his father, the late Huel D. Perkins, Ph.D., then assistant vice chancellor of academic affairs at Louisiana State University. "He was the first Black tenured professor at LSU," remembers Priscilla, a co-ed at the time, "and I was always in the chancellor's office, begging. Because in my world, student government, I was always bringing in speakers and asking for money.
"One day one of those assistant chancellors called in a favor. He said, 'Priscilla, my wife is running for family court judge and needs volunteers. Would you be willing?' So I go to this apartment sight unseen and meet this interesting group of people. And there's this man sitting there who looks and sounds just like Dr. Perkins! Oh, my God! So I walk up to him … "
That, believe it or not, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, enhanced by a spirited intellectual sparring match that continues to this day. "We started out as colleagues, in a sense, but we have always had a philosophical tension," maintains Huel, 60. "We believe in the same goals, but we don't have the same ideas about how to get there. So we would have these lengthy philosophical discussions about politics, music, whatever. We would start in the late afternoon and sometimes go until the early morning."
"We were both dating other people at the time," Priscilla, 54, recalls. "I never dreamed we would end up being a couple." In fact, says Huel, "The first time I brought Priscilla home to meet my parents, dad looked at her and said, 'Priscilla! What are you doing here?' She says, 'I'm dating your son.'"
The couple has been married 32 years and has two sons, (Huel) Jared, 21, and Vincent, 19. When they moved to Detroit in 1989 from Huel's previous television stop in St. Louis, Priscilla transferred her Junior League membership to Birmingham at just the time the organization was adopting Lighthouse—and especially its PATH program, offering transitional housing support to homeless women and children—as a signature project.
"Four-and-a-half years ago, the (Lighthouse) president and a few board members thought it would be a good idea to hire me to do the development work," Priscilla says. "I have to credit my relationship in the volunteer community for this."
Did she think it was a good idea? "Absolutely not," she says, laughing. "The climate is tough because it's so competitive. You have a lot of different charities competing for the same pool of dollars. But Lighthouse is a place where people can get help bridging the gap between the needs they have and the help they need. We like to use the term 'beacon of hope.'"
Celebrating his 25th anniversary on FOX 2 in 2014 ("I got a plaque," he grins), Huel legitimately can take his place among Bonds, Crim, Makupson and other titans of Detroit TV news. "I don't feel that at all," he says. "I've had the pleasure of working with some of the greats, including Bill Bonds and Rich Fisher. But I am happy that I'm able to present a perspective and a voice that is unique in this market, and I think the viewers have embraced me, which is why I'm still here."
Huel admits, however, "I thought I would be here three years at most and gone." Determined to become an attorney like his grandfather, he attended Southern University law school while he was on the air in Baton Rouge. Never could he have foreseen crafting a legendary TV career, much less hosting a wildly popular free-for-all like Let It Rip.
"When we started Let It Rip it was only five minutes long, a segment in the newscast," Huel recalls. "It really took off with the Kwame Kilpatrick scandal. It was my idea to not just have the pundits or reporters, but people who were emotionally involved with the story. That gives you a perspective you don't normally see on TV, and that's why it really caught on. People were allowed to say what they felt, not just what they thought people wanted to hear."
You might want to hear the secret to a long and successful marriage. "There's no pixie dust, no 50-50 in a relationship," Priscilla says. "You have to figure out a way to make it work because marriage is work. And it's about always finding your way back to love."
Kim Trent and Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman gives a sly but loving glance at his wife, Kim Trent, over lunch at The Grille Midtown in Detroit. "My line about Kim is," he teases, "'If there's not a committee meeting tonight, she will call one to order.'"
That may not be completely, or even partially, in jest. For when it comes to putting the "action" in social action, one would be hard-pressed to find any Detroiter with more commitment—or committees—than Kim. "There's always some issue," she acknowledges. "The girls in Nigeria. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray. I stay on the old causes, add new causes, and suddenly I look up and say, 'OK, why am I doing 18 things now?'"
Ken, the former city of Detroit charter revision commissioner, Michigan Chronicle and Michigan Front Page editor, and present-day civic historian, is no slouch himself. Between them, this crusading couple seemingly has their hands in or around most of the political, educational and media circles in this city.
Among Kim's involvements: Student recruitment manager for Michigan Future, Inc., a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank in Ann Arbor. "That's my real job," she says. "The one I get paid for."
She's also a member of the board of governors for Wayne State University, her alma mater, and the National Social Action Commission for her national sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. President of The Rosa L. Parks Scholarship Foundation, too. Oh, and board member of Habitat for Humanity of Detroit.
There are more. And maybe fewer.
"My husband has made it clear he would like me to step down from a few boards," Kim says sheepishly. "I got off four boards last year. I'm very proud of myself."
Her husband doesn't have much room to criticize. Ken's jam-packed project list includes communications director for U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield), whom he helped move from Southfield mayor to 14th District congresswoman as her campaign consultant; Michigan Democratic Party activist; mentor and spokesperson for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit; and author of three books, all about the Black experience in Detroit. His latest, Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit, was published in June.
The book has gained considerable exposure around Detroit, especially since its release coincided with Black Music Month. "They're steady," Ken notes. "Books don't get you rich, but it's more critical acclaim. What I'm hoping to do is build enough of a business model with the books to where I'm just doing that, because that's where my passion is. I really have found a new calling."
Their united calling, however, is their son (where did they find the time?), Jackson. The irrepressible 6-year-old, better known as "Jax," provides comic relief for their social media accounts and compelled both Kim and Ken to view their undertakings with new perspective. In his eight years with BBBS, "The kid I mentor now, Jackson has literally grown up with him," notes Ken, 47. "My mentee is 12, Jackson's almost 7—and it may sound like a cliché but by doing this work I gain a little brother and Jax gets a big brother.
"At one point we had a 'waiting to be matched' list, kids in the program but waiting to be paired with mentors, of more than 100, and at least two-thirds of them were Black. So we established a program called '100 Mentors in 100 Days,' using the first 100 days of the year for our active recruitment campaign. That's important work for me, the one seminal thing outside of political activity that I've remained committed to."
Kim's commitment to education is manifest through her board seat at Wayne State, where she helped spearhead the bestowing of an honorary degree to civil rights martyr Viola Liuzzo, the first posthumous degree in the university's history. "They said 'no' 10 years ago because they'd never done it before," says Kim, 46. "That's a minor win, and there are a lot more serious problems at Wayne State, but it is gratifying to see something like that happen. We're trying to help Jackson understand how important it is to give back to the community."
"Uh, honey," Ken pipes up, "Wayne State doesn't have problems. They have challenges. I'm the PR guy."
On top of it all, Ken is a long distance runner who has competed in the last seven Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathons, and a familiar sight along downtown streets. "I chaired the Democratic Party's African-American Leadership Awards recently, and the emcee who introduced me spent half his time talking about how my husband runs around with no shirt on," says Kim. "I'm thinking, 'What's that got to do with me?'"
JIM MCFARLIN IS A VETERAN DETROIT ENTERTAINMENT AND MEDIA WRITER NOW BASED OUTSIDE CHICAGO.