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Leadership Detroit Class XLI: Resilience Amid Uncertain Times

Leadership Detroit, a signature initiative of the Detroit Regional Chamber, offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for professionals to take their leadership skills to the next level. Leadership Detroit takes a unique behind-the-scenes approach to understanding the inner workings of the region for existing and emerging regional leaders. Participants tap into a diverse pool of professionals with a variety of opinions to enhance their contribution to the community. This year, the Chamber graduated its 41st cohort of Leadership Detroit which featured 69 executives from across the region, representing a cross section of the community including business, organized labor, government, education, media, civic groups, health services, and community organizations.

Leadership Detroit Class XLI’s journey is one for the history books. Following a strong start with the cohort’s annual orientation retreat and workshops on topics including education and race and diversity, the global COVID-19 crisis struck.

With the program pausing in-person programming to align with health, safety, and government regulations, Class XLI shifted to virtual gatherings. Amid uncertainty and change, this group of leaders forged ahead, continuing to facilitate conversations critical to their professional development and the quality of life in their communities. This cohort’s diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and skills proved more important than ever as they stayed connected and explored solutions to ensure a stronger society through and beyond the pandemic.

Despite not having what would be considered a traditional Leadership Detroit experience, Class XLI made it their own, exhibiting resilience and unwavering commitment to inspire and lead positive change in the region.

The craft brewing industry has a disproportionately white male workforce, which may be why the industry’s core customer base skews that way significantly as well.  Over the past year, I have made a concerted effort to engage with various industry and beer-enthusiast groups that have an eye toward diversity. A great example is our breweries hiring of a female assistant brewer and our support of Fermenta, a 501(c)(3) non-profit trade group initiated by women, committed to education, networking, diversity, and empowerment within the fermented beverage and food industries. Another example has been our engagement with a recent worldwide beer collaboration called Black is Beautiful. The beer was brewed by over 1,000 breweries in over 20 countries, with all proceeds being donated to charities local to those breweries that focus on racial and social equity and reform.”

Matt Demorest, Co-Founder, Five Shores Brewing 

“Leadership Detroit offers the rare opportunity for meaningful interaction between influential leaders from diverse industries and perspectives, who are committed to the betterment of Detroit. It is a powerful and transformative learning experience that has changed who I am and how I look at myself as a leader. LD showed me that I am a problem solver with a talent for getting very different people together to work toward a common goal. This knowledge is key to my work in the Detroit region as the needs of all members of our community must be met to build the best Detroit.”

Monifa Gray, Senior Associate, The Allen Law Group 


“LD exposes you to such high quality, high-achieving individuals who are producing great products within our region. You are exposed to the intimate workings of school systems, foundations, government, manufacturing, insurance, banking, construction, etcetera, which allows LD graduates to create a baseline of understanding and penetrating any silos within these industries. The relationships leveraged from LD are key. Previous graduates are always accessible and available to provide a helping hand. LD is a connector and we are looking forward to implementing regional projects supporting social and economic issues.“

Jason Allen, Catastrophe Regional Manager, The Auto Club Group  

“One of the most promising paths for achieving racial equity in this region is to greatly expand access to both business leaders and job opportunities for young Black men. By so doing, we can collectively build up the educational credentials, the marketplace know-how and the network of relationships necessary for these young Black men to compete and succeed in the 21st century global marketplace. That is why at Detroit Loyola High School, we provide a college-prep curriculum in the classroom, a comprehensive work-study program in the community, and an overarching daily mission of creating “Men for Others…Men for Detroit.”

David R. Smith, President, Loyola High School Detroit 

“Detroit’s ability to be a leading city has limitless potential when we focus on what binds us together. Relationships, built by conversations and shared experiences, rooted in justice, honesty, equity, and a relentless love for our city can turn small ideas into big ones, personal change into systems transformation and, a city like Detroit – once considered an afterthought – into a place of promise and prosperity for all. For nearly one year, 70 leaders from the class of XLI (the best class ever!) laid the groundwork for what Detroit can be. We engaged in debate, supported each other through personal and professional success and loss, and persisted during a pandemic. I entered LD with questions, I left with new friends and hope.”

Jack J. Elsey Jr., Executive Director, Detroit Children’s Fund 

“From day one at Leadership Detroit, I learned and that continues today. By learning more about the city, our community-based organizations, businesses, and resources, I am better able to connect folks and help elevate the voices and goals of others which I think embodies the true function of leadership.  You have to understand Detroit, the history, and the city before you have enough street cred to walk alongside us as we grow our city of opportunity.  Leadership Detroit fast tracks those connections, historical perspectives and those opportunities.  Now I can pick up the phone and call someone with an idea and we can work to make it happen.”

Dawn S. Medley, Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management, Wayne State University 

“Leadership Detroit was a fantastic experience where I learned through my incredible classmates and had challenging discussions in the pursuit of more impactful leadership. LD provides a path to increase self-awareness, gain knowledge from different perspectives, and push the boundaries of understanding. Going through the experience during the pandemic allowed us to offer support and encouragement as we faced difficult personal and professional moments. The deep level of compassion that was demonstrated by our class gives me hope. There is a shared desire to make a difference in Detroit and the state, and these strong leaders will pursue that outcome.”

Ginna Holmes, Executive Director, Michigan Community Service Commission 

It will be difficult but certainly not impossible to dismantle the layers upon layers of structural racism that exist in this nation. One of the barriers to achieving racial equality in our region is the inequal access of K-12 students to a robust and quality education. The school system has failed the children of Detroit to the point where they sued the State of Michigan for denying them not only their right to an education, but to literacy. Education is a human right, and when children are denied the right to a quality education, they are denied access to a future on their own terms. And for a child to truly benefit from a quality education, there needs to be certain conditions in place outside the classroom: access to clean water, access to healthy and nutritious foods, access to safe neighborhoods, access to healthcare – things the city or state government must ensure are available to its citizens, and especially its most vulnerable ones, among whom are children.”

Diana Abouali, Director, Arab American National Museum 

As someone who has practiced corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion, and led community efforts that required the translation of actions and messages to reach all kinds of audiences, I absolutely appreciate the value of having a deep and diverse personal network. In these times, I plan to deepen and expand the diversity of my network with more one-on-one conversations with those I know, and seeking their recommendations for others I should connect with. all members of our community must be met to build the best Detroit.”

Dana L. Williams, Chief of Staff And Director Of Employer Engagement, Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development, City of Detroit 

“I found the diversity of backgrounds and perspectives to be a real game-changer in engaging in unique and meaningful dialogue during my LD experience. I appreciate all different perspectives and am thankful to have a great network of peers that I can call on and connect with on a regular basis. I plan to stay in contact with my LD peers, meet for events, discuss topics, as well as reach out to for advice and support. I will regularly offer up others in my network for support and ideally, everyone’s network will become extended support and connections for all.”

Jennifer Sulak Brown, Senior Vice President, People + Culture + Brand, Barton Malow 

“Leadership Detroit uses leadership development and robust dialogue to focus a corps of high potential professionals on problem solving in our region. The challenges in Southeast Michigan were amplified for our class by COVID-19 and the national uprising over systemic racism—and we tackled them head-on in virtual meetings and offline discussions. I will carry the momentum of those conversations with me and I will commit to creating a healthy environment of civil dialogue, inclusion and collaboration in the Southeast Michigan region.  Understanding one another will move us forward as a region.”

Dave Scott, Manager, Sales and Account Management, Delta Dental of Michigan