President Darvell Powell wants to see a unified black community.
His organization provides personal and community-minded development for African-Americans – as well as mentorship opportunities. When Darvell Powell arrived in Detroit from Kentucky in 2015, he looked around and noticed a gap in the city. Sure, it was starting to thrive again, but there just weren't enough networks for young black professionals to meet and support one another. In fact, from his vantage point, the sum total was zero.
Having graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a degree in mechanical engineering, Powell – a Mansfield, Ohio native – was no stranger to designing things. He spent his first years out of college working with Toyota, where he developed and installed automotive model changes across the country in the manufacturing division. He later took what he calls his "dream job" at General Motors, where he works today as a product engineer. That's his day job, but Black Young Professionals of Metro Detroit is another passion, one that ties neatly into his current worldview. "We have a vision – our vision is to see a unified black community throughout all metro Detroit," Powell says.
"As a young professional (age 30), I did set out to make it our mission. I think it's within my reach." Powell says that Black Young Professionals of Metro Detroit uses a "three-pillar" approach. This includes the social aspect, personal development and community service. "People are social in nature, (so) we start out with our social events," Powell says. "Then, we move to personal development. Now, personal development and community service are really what we're all about. It's our approach, instead of professional development. We want to set people up for success in their professional and their personal lives by giving them the tools and the knowledge necessary to go to work and not be encumbered by problems within their personal life or family life."
Community service, Powell adds, entails participation in events in and around the region – from workshops at Detroit College Day 2018, held in March, to the Neighborhood Service Organization's Handlebars for the Homeless event returning to the city Aug. 5. "We help organizations invigorate existing community-facing programs by injecting engaged young black professionals into opportunities where the overall black community of Detroit can quickly see our members giving back," Powell says, "and our members feel immediately engaged in the community."
Black Young Professionals of Metro Detroit offers free programming focusing on what Powell calls "reconciliation of personal, community and familial affairs such as mental and physical health, personal finance, entrepreneurship and discussion of current social issues." Current social issues have a direct correlation to helping the next generation succeed. Mentorship is also a crucial part of Black Young Professionals of Metro Detroit's overarching mission. And what's different about the organization's approach is the idea of putting recent college grads in front of students. After all, these are young people – 24 and slightly older – who've recently sat in the classrooms, taken out student loans and aren't far removed from the struggle.
"In a little over the past year," Powell says, "we have provided over 30 Black Young Professionals certified volunteer mentors and speakers to organizations such as the Student Advocacy Center of Michigan, Detroit College Access Network, Detroit College Promise scholarship program, Neighborhood Service Organization and Wayne State University." The word "professional" might be in the organization's title, but Powell reiterates that the real focus is on the personal side of things. "We don't try to take up the professional development mantle," Powell says. "We take up the personal development mantle, and people aren't really talking about it. We are part of a network. Not only are we connecting people, we're connecting organizations."
For more information on Black Young Professionals of Metro Detroit and its upcoming events, visit bypdetroit.org.