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Detroit Speaks steps up to give kids in the city a voice

The organization, founded by three Southfield Lathrup grads, aids students on the path to higher education and other opportunities.

Students and teachers in Detroit Public Schools Community District, and the old DPS that preceded it, still remain in flux. When school is back in session this fall, there’s no doubt that many of the district’s old problems will haunt the academic year going forward.

That’s where assistance from the outside can benefit. A trio of Detroit natives has stepped up to do their part to help Detroit youth.

Brianna Alexander, Danielle Hughes and Jasmine Swain took action and created an youth program, Detroit Speaks. The trio started Detroit Speaks to aid and fill the gaps of the Detroit education system: Nurturing children in need of support, and giving them the necessary guidance for their future by focusing on the community involvement, scholarship and innovation.

Per the organization’s vision statement, “Our vision is to acknowledge the accomplishments of young Detroiters and provide our youth with the resources to excel in their personal endeavors. In addition, we seek to give young people the opportunity to find their voice amidst all of the pressures that come along with making college and/or career decisions.”

 

Passion from afar

Detroit Speaks is the definition of passion for its three founders. Friends since attending Southfield Lathrup High School, Alexander, Hughes and Swain have known each other for more than 10 years.

All three ladies are Detroit-area natives, but currently live out of state. Hughes and Alexander reside in Atlanta, while Swain is in St. Louis. Why would these founders leave Michigan? Simply because they wanted follow their respective career paths and take on excellent job opportunities.

But living in another state shouldn’t exclude you from helping another city.

“Doing good in the communities of Atlanta and Detroit is not difficult. I am always planning projects and it is the same work and communication styles. All it took was picking up a phone and reaching out to people. It shouldn’t be complicated to help out,” Alexander says.

Detroit Speaks officially launched November 2014 -- on Black Friday, to be exact.

“We started because there has been a lot of negatives. A bunch of us are doing well and believe we should to give back. The platform is no matter where you are it is good to give back to your community,” Alexander says.

Hughes echoes those sentiments. “It seems difficult, but technology makes it easier. We make use of webinars as an easy way of reaching out from different states,” she says.

Even though technology is a strong ally to these founders there are challenges. “My biggest one is not physically being in Detroit,” Hughes admits. “We have to constantly contact people to volunteer to represent.”

 

Setbacks and helping hands

“We want the younger generations to know they have no limit. It is easy for us to tell what they can and cannot do. A lot of times we place barriers in a child’s life. We tend to shame people because it doesn’t fit the traditional mode. Instead, we need to show them how they can achieve their goals,” Hughes says.

There are clear disadvantages for the children of DPS compared to those suburban schools. With those setbacks in mind, the main question revolves around finding alternative ways to aid the growth of Detroit students.

“There are kids in Detroit are just as talented who don’t have as much resources. For children it is about staying on track,” Swain says. “ However, if there are no proper resources for their growth, then it’s like they are making classrooms into prisons. Many teachers are working in intense conditions which makes it difficult to educate daily.”

When it comes to graduation and the potential of attending college, it’s another story. Some students aren’t aware of standardized testing like ACTs and SAT’s, or even college and trade school applications. To assist with demands and necessities, Detroit Speaks research on scholarships and college prep materials.

“We strongly promote scholarships that are out there and unclaimed. Nobody knows where these scholarships are, so we do our research to locate,” Hughes says.

 

Community involvement

From aiding the Flint Water Crisis to volunteering in food banks, Detroit Speaks gives students opportunities to serve their community. The organization finished 2015 with its “Feed the Hungry Mission,” feeding more than 100 in need the day after Christmas.

Its upcoming projects include collecting apparel and school supplies for students in need, similar to a drive in 2015 where the orgnaization hosted a free clothing drive of new and gently used clothes.

“We want to be able to connect and convene with the city. A lot of people don’t know the better that is going on in Detroit,” Alexander says.

Visit Detroit Speaks at www.detroitspeaksout.com.

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