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New Faces, High Places Reception Welcomes New Black Leadership Geared to Help Strengthen Detroit

By Sherri Kolade

Detroit — known for its resilience, agility, upwardly mobile entrepreneurship sector, and unflappable residents — is also seeing a resurgence when it comes to attracting non-native Black movers and shakers to the area.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome them to Detroit.

The Michigan Chronicle and Real Times Media (RTM), alongside approximately 80 of the city’s current power players, recently officially welcomed the newest Black C-suite leaders who now call Detroit home at the New Faces, High Places welcome reception in late August.

“Our annual New Faces event is important because it not only gives us the opportunity to welcome Detroit’s newest talent in a way that makes their relocation a more comfortable experience, but it also connects Black business leaders in the city, and metro Detroit, with one another,” said Hiram E. Jackson, CEO of Real Times Media and publisher of the Michigan Chronicle. “This kind of intentional connectivity creates an energy and an immediate spirit of collaboration that only benefits progress and stronger outcomes for the city.”

Several of these newcomers spoke to the Michigan Chronicle about what it means to be part of the movement of helping build back up a bourgeoning Black Detroit.

The Rev. Kirk McKenzie doesn’t wait for the flock to come to her — she goes out to the people and meets them where they are.

Whether that is by community outreach activities like election rallies or catering to the needs of residents (especially the youth so they return home as adults), Kirk McKenzie is quickly establishing herself as a voice of the people.

As the pastor at Inkster-based Smith Chapel AME Church since 2020, Kirk McKenzie, who lives in Midtown, has been leading her faithful congregation and impacting the community since she moved to oversee the congregation last year.

“I don’t wait for them to come to us — we got to come to them; be willing to go to them,” Kirk McKenzie said.

Kirk McKenzie, who was appointed to the church by the Fourth Episcopal District (which covers Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Canada) said that receiving recognition from RTM as a newcomer is a blessing.

“It’s an honor to be included in the voice of conversation,” the bold, local pastor said, adding that when she learned of the opportunity to come to Smith Chapel it was one she couldn’t pass up. “Although I was appointed (to this position) it felt ordained by God — I get to be a part of helping revitalize a community like Inkster and Smith Chapel is important to the community and Inkster.”

Kirk McKenzie’s focus in Inkster is to build up community engagement and her pastoral leadership. Kirk McKenzie has already witnessed the “resilience” of the residents and is planning big things this year to help connect the congregation and community in more ways during COVID-19.

Not one to just checkboxes to say she got it done, Kirk McKenzie said that she is about making a change that can be felt by all – including the city of Detroit, which she said has some similarities to Inkster.

For her, those changes include making tangible connections with local politicians, other clergy members, and beyond to build relationships to identify the needs of the people and resources.

Kirk McKenzie added that as a Black, female minister she is looking forward to networking even more with other Black professionals locally to bring even more opportunities to Inkster in the future.

“Go to the people,” she reiterated of her goal of reaching those most in need.

Angelique Power, the president and CEO of The Skillman Foundation will oversee the organization beginning on Monday, September 13.

Power, who hails from Chicago, served as president of the Field Foundation in Chicago.

Born and raised on the southside of Chicago (by a white, Jewish mother and an African American father) she is all about racial equity and social justice, according to her biography.

Power, who is temporarily housed in West Bloomfield (with plans to move to Novi or Northville with her husband and 11-year-old daughter) is certainly at the right place at the right time working in Detroit, which is going through redefining itself in the equity conversation.

“It’s been beautiful so far,” she said of the transition from Chicago to metro Detroit.

Power – not new to Detroit – has spent the last 20 years often in the city for work, and is using her talent, skills, and new connections (purposefully meeting others in one-on-one conversations) as a backdrop to help her lead The Skillman Foundation.

“Detroit is this gem of a city — there is an electricity to it,” she said of the art, music, and people. “I feel like I’m joining visionaries.”

Power said that she appreciates Michigan’s natural beauty, local wildlife, especially in the suburbs, and the “thriving urban environment.”

“In this move (you) get the best of two worlds,” Power said, adding that from a networking perspective, in the next year she plans to spend every week meeting with people to understand Detroit better, along with the work she is called to do. “It is not a monolithic city — a lot of different people who have different ideas about what the future of Detroit would be. I am coming … in and excited to meet with people, listen and learn.”

In May, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation Executive Committee named Quentin L. Messer, Jr. as MEDC CEO. As CEO, Messer is charged with implementing and executing MEDC’s core mission of business development and attraction, community development, providing access to capital, and enhancing Michigan’s image and brand. His responsibilities will include administering all programs, funds, personnel, contracts, and all other administrative functions of MEDC.

Messer comes to the MEDC from the New Orleans Business Alliance (NOLABA) where he has served as President and CEO since 2015. He led efforts around business attraction, small business growth, talent development, branding, and market-responsive, equitable economic growth while also cultivating robust partner relationships and leading efforts to secure significant private sector investment. Under Messer’s leadership, NOLABA became one of fewer than 90 economic development organizations globally to earn accreditation from the International Economic Development Council (IEDC).

“America is at its best when Michigan is at its best, and I’m thrilled to join the proven MEDC team, the Governor, the legislature, and economic development stakeholders across this great state in driving an economy that creates upward mobility and opportunity for the broadest possible group of Michiganders,” said Messer, Jr.

Messer, based in Lansing, told the Michigan Chronicle that the way people perceive Michigan has a lot to do with how they feel about Detroit.

“Detroit is critically important,” he said of Michigan’s largest city. “The identity of how people feel about Michigan is set on people’s perceptions about Detroit.”

Messer added that there are “very dated” perceptions about Detroit, which extend to dated perceptions of Michigan. He is looking forward to helping shape the positive viewpoints of the city and state.

“We have an opportunity to transform that and see an opportunity for themselves in the economy and create opportunity,” Messer said. “You don’t get the opportunity to create that every day.”

The Michigan Chronicle also recognizes these “New Faces”: Troy Weaver, Tyrel Kirkham, Brad Holmes, Kofi Bonner, Daniel Jackson, Audrey Gregory, Reginal Davis, Christian Greer, Todd Corley, and Antoine Bryant.

Let’s welcome them on their new professional journey here in Detroit as they create new lanes of their own in this land of opportunity.

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