State of the City highlights many positives, but Detroit leaders' vision must include children


On Wednesday night, COO Tonya Allen and I attended Mayor Dave Bing’s State of the City address.

We listened carefully as Bing highlighted investments that have poured into the city, a new partnership to improve the city’s blight problem, and initiatives aimed at increasing the safety of our streets.

These are all positives for the city of Detroit.

But as the speech ended, Tonya and I looked at one another, and it was obvious we had the same thought: Children were absent from the mayor’s vision.

There was no talk about our schools or education reform. There was no mention of early childhood education. Neither was there much mention of neighborhoods, where a majority of the city’s nearly 200,000 children live.

And there was no time spent dealing directly with the subject of youth and how to improve their lives.

Plenty of the positives happening in Detroit will benefit kids in the long-run. But this is assuming these children grow up to be healthy, educated and well-developed, ready to take advantage of those opportunities.

We know that when you grow up in poverty and attend failing schools, rising above to become that well-adjusted, successful adult is not impossible, but statistically improbable.

We want kids to have hope that the city cares about them and their future. We need our next mayor, whether that’s Mayor Bing – who is a good man and a friend – or another leader, to be intentional about putting children first.

Our hope at The Skillman Foundation would be that whenever possible, decisions would be made through a lens that asks first, “What will this do for our city’s children?”

If they want an example of how to build this kind of thinking into your culture, we’d love to engage in that conversation. For more than 50 years, the Foundation has put children front and center.

For instance, through our $100-million, 10-year commitment called Good Neighborhoods, we’ve learned that neighborhood transformation that benefits kids is indeed possible, if you stay committed, if you bring residents along from the beginning and if you scrupulously ask yourself along the way whether outcomes for kids are improving.

We’re asking ourselves those very questions now as we go through a strategic planning process. And I know as Tonya Allen takes over as the Foundation’s next leader, the magnifying glass on our work and the outcomes for children in the city will only intensify. (Read Tonya’s op-ed in the Detroit Free Press here.)

Changing outcomes for children doesn’t come quickly or easily, but it won’t come at all if those in leadership roles don’t stand up and declare that change must happen. 

Together, as a society, we can’t lose sight of our future, and that future is in our children. I hope you agree with me that investing in that future should be our very top priority.

What are your thoughts? Share here and engage in the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #KidsMatterHere.

-- Carol Goss is president and CEO of the Foundation.