5 reasons the Leadership Academy exceeds expectations

When I came to Detroit to be a new public policy fellow for The Skillman Foundation last June, I knew I needed to learn a lot to get caught up to speed about Good Neighborhoods. So I signed up for the Good Neighborhoods Leadership Academy, hoping to meet community leaders and learn more about Detroit. I’d heard the trainer was really good. I was curious what I’d learn, and I also wanted to see if by watching him, I could learn something about how to increase local residents’ capacity for change.


The Good Neighborhoods Leadership Academy is open to residents in the six Good Neighborhoods and anyone working with a Foundation grantee partner.

This is what I hoped for, but what I found was a program that helped us grow as a people, improve our community-based efforts, and network with others to achieve more change.

The Good Neighborhoods Leadership Academy is a free, six-session training program designed to help residents from the six Skillman Foundation Good Neighborhoods grow in leadership. During the program, 35 leaders-in-training meet for seven hours every other Saturday.

While the spring session is currently fully enrolled, anyone living in the six Skillman Foundation Good Neighborhoods or working for one of our grantee partners can inquire about attending future leadership development training by talking to the executive director of their governance group.

Here are five reasons why the spring cohort should be excited, and why other community members should consider leadership training in the future.

  1. 1. Great people and neighborhood networking:  The people who participate in the leadership training are accomplished and dedicated, and it was a pleasure to get to know them. Because we came from different efforts all over the Good Neighborhoods, many of us were new to each other. Group activities, intentional discussions, and all that time together gave us a chance to build and strengthen relationships with other people from our neighborhoods and to build relationships across neighborhoods. We became very enthusiastic about each other and had a good time.
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    Public Policy Fellow Katie DiSalvo (right) says she learned a great deal from Dr. Omowale Satterwhite, who leads the Leadership Academy. His leadership, positive discussions and energy encouraged participation.

    2. A great teacher: Dr. Omowale Satterwhite is a gifted, passionate, relentlessly positive teacher. Through study and working with more than 1,200 organizations in 100 cities, Dr. Satterwhite has deep knowledge of organizational development and community building. He has particularly great examples from his work in East Palo Alto, Calif., which he helped to get established as a separate municipality in 1983. He explained that though it’s still a low-income community, they’ve built the ability to solve their own problems, like fighting prevalent racial profiling in nearby communities that targeted many young men.

    He made the Academy the most respectful environment in which I’ve ever learned. In six sessions, he answered every question, kept us on task and on time without shutting people down, and kept the whole discussion positive and energetic. Because of his leadership, people participated. Dr. Satterwhite teaches that if you honor your work in the community, the work will honor you. For me this means continuing to learn and innovate, respecting colleagues and valuing your goals. He is proof of his own saying, and I learned so much from his example. 

  3. 3. Great skill building: You will learn about collaboration, program evaluation, moving a grassroots organization to greater stability and sustainability, policy advocacy and building a good organizational board. Learning how to use data to evaluate your program can be a complicated topic, but Dr. Satterwhite breaks it down and keeps returning to this over time. In his session on building organizational capacity, he outlined various stages organizations go through. This helped me think about struggles I’ve had in community efforts in the past.                                                                                                                                                            
  4. Great resources: The Academy starts with members talking about what issues they would like to learn more about. Later sessions include visits from experts who share insights and Detroit resources on the issues members raise. For our group, the issues included topics such as public health, foreclosures and family finance. My favorite speaker was Bernard Thompson, an enthusiastic job coach from the Focus Hope: Center for Working Families in the city.
  5. 5. Great structure: The Academy included team-building activities, presentations, visitors and discussions. Highlights included a panel of youth interviewed by Dr. Satterwhite and a panel of Leadership Academy graduates interviewed by our group.  One graduate from Osborn said she left the Academy feeling ready to access different programs and to be a connector in her neighborhood. She has since become a leader in the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance, leading some of its parks work. She brought this new attitude to work because of the training, and has become a leader in her union as well.

-- Katie DiSalvo is a public policy fellow in Good Neighborhoods for The Skillman Foundation.