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Nominate Detroit Entrepreneurs who Demonstrate ‘The Hustle’ by June 30

Crain’s Detroit Business
Jay Davis

April 27, 2022

Native Detroiter Mark Bland noticed something was missing in terms of attendance at city cultural sites such as the Detroit Institute of Arts and Detroit Historical Museum.

“I started to see there weren’t a lot of Black people coming in and taking in what we’re producing,” said Bland, a Detroit Historical Society trustee.

Bland believes the reason for that low attendance, in a city that’s nearly 80 percent Black, is a lack of representation. He also thought it was time for a certain group to be highlighted.

A new program fronted by the Detroit Historical Society aims to spotlight Black business owners who are all about the grind but may not receive recognition for what they offer.

The Hustle is the nonprofit’s newest community engagement and exhibition effort, following in the footsteps of the Detroit 67 project. Incorporating large-scale photography by Detroit photographers, oral histories, museum exhibits and events, public programming, school tours and a resource summit, the program aims to serve community members whose contributions are not always recognized through such programming, exhibits and events.

To identify Detroit entrepreneurs who exemplify The Hustle, the historical society will crowdsource nominations through June 30. Nominations can be made through the historical society’s website, on paper ballots available at the Detroit Historical Museum and at neighborhood community meetings and town halls where The Hustle will be discussed. The organization is seeking 500 nominations, according to DHS Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer Rebecca Salminen Witt. From those nominations, 36 will be selected for the first phase of the program, which will showcase six to nine business owners over four quarterly exhibitions.
“We call it ‘The Hustle’ because that’s what Detroiters do,” Salminen Witt said Wednesday at a formal announcement of the initiative. “We feel like it’s important for those stories to be told.”

Bland said: “When they come to a museum, the people in the city want to see exhibits featuring people who look like them.”

Detroit Historical Society Chief Executive Officer Elana Rugh called the effort an important one for the city.

“Our mission is to tell Detroit’s stories and why they matter,” Rugh said in a news release. “No story is too big, or too small for our museums and we often say our goal is that our visitors will see themselves somewhere in our halls or on our walls. The Hustle will do that in a way that no other project ever has, and we are excited to celebrate these stories in our museum.”

Nominees will be selected by an independent group of advisers, comprising community members and those funding the work. A “Legends” group of nominees will consist of businesses in operation for more than 20 years, “Rock Stars” in business for five to 10 years, and “Rising Stars” who have operated a business for less than five years, according to the release. Honorees will be announced in July and the first exhibit will open in September.

Categories cover close to every type of business. Artists and entertainers will be honored. A group of “fixers” who help when something breaks down will be featured, along with creators and makers, helpers and caregivers, shopkeepers, stylists and foodies. An “other” category will honor small business owners “working hard in a unique way.”
Eric Thomas, chief storyteller for the city of Detroit, said The Hustle is a project with genuine compassion for the city and its people.

“What’s exciting about (The Hustle) is that it’s reinterrogating history. History isn’t static. It’s a moving object,” Thomas said. “When you think about who a city’s institutions reflect, in a historical museum, I think it’s important people see a reflection of themselves in a historical context.

“This project in particular is showing that all the people in Detroit aren’t scraping by. People are thriving and that’s important for people to see.”

The total cost of the project, which will be implemented over the course of two years, is $500,000-$600,000.

Sponsoring the program are the Gilbert Family Foundation, which made a $150,000 contribution to the effort, and Toyota Motor North America and AAA/The Auto Club group, each of which chipped in $100,000. Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase are providing additional undisclosed financial support. Program organizers are seeking additional sponsors.

The Hustle will include several educational components, including a series of panel discussions. School tours and educational sessions are planned for the 2022-23 school year. A summit is slated for summer 2023 that will provide resources for entrepreneurs of all ages. Virtual tours, a virtual exhibition and a podcast on the program will debut in 2023, according to the release.

Alva Adams Mason, group manager of Multicultural Business Alliance and Strategy and Multicultural Dealer Relations for Toyota Motor North America, said in a statement that the automaker is “proud to the support the program, as it puts a spotlight on Detroit’s Black, unsung entrepreneurs who make the city thrive.”

“Toyota is focused on creating opportunities for all as we celebrate the differences that make us all unique and ensure not just a seat at the table, but a ticket to the party and a spot in the driver’s seat,” Mason said. “The Detroit Historical Society’s ‘The Hustle’ is aligned to our mission of shining a light on building a marketplace with limitless possibilities for all.”

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