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People to Watch

By Karen Dybis

Across the city there are many people whose efforts are contributing to the revitalization underway. This section offers a window into just some of the Detroiters whose innovation, leadership, and talents are adding to the momentum in the Motor City and who are likely going to help create a more vibrant, equitable, and resurgent Detroit post-pandemic.

Jennifer Gilbert, Co-founder 
Gilbert Family Foundation

With decades spent in interior design, Jennifer Gilbert has had a hand in creating cutting-edge workplaces and home-furnishings solutions. Thanks to her five children and entrepreneur spouse Dan Gilbert, she also is the heart behind the Gilbert Family Foundation, which seeks to accelerate a cure for neurofibromatosis type 1 and accelerate Detroit’s potential. In March, the couple announced a $500 million investment in the city’s neighborhoods, providing tax relief for residents and creating new opportunities for home ownership.

 


Anika Goss
Chief Executive Officer, Detroit Future City

Think-tank leader might not sound like a job that has a direct impact on people, but Anika Goss’s work at Detroit Future City is doing exactly that. Through data-driven strategy and smart resource building, Detroit Future City has outlined ways to address Detroit’s real economic and social issues and create equitable growth in the city. Detroit Future City released in May “The State of Economic Equity in Detroit,” a comprehensive data report outlining the deep disparities and systemic inequality that persist in Detroit and the region, proposing recommendations that will help provide a path to prosperity.


Darin Mckeever
President and Chief Executive Officer, William Davidson Foundation

Social entrepreneurship isn’t just Darin McKeever’s expertise. It is his passion as the leader of the William Davidson Foundation and in his roles on some of Detroit’s most influential organizations. His goal is to boost Southeast Michigan’s cultural, civic and economic health through grants, philanthropy and foundational partnerships. That means putting additional focus on small businesses, job creation and boosting quality of life initiatives, like Midtown’s Cultural Center campus and the Detroit Riverfront, and major grants to other key efforts such as Motown Museum, Design Core Detroit, and the New Economy Initiative.


Kofi Bonner
Chief Executive Officer, Bedrock

Kofi Bonner has spent his entire career considering the impact of cities, architecture, affordable housing, and, most recently, entertainment centers. He joined Bedrock in August 2020 to lead efforts to take Detroit to new heights through transformative real estate projects, community partnership and a commitment to supporting the city’s small businesses. Bedrock’s most recent purchase of 300 River Place moves the firm onto the storied Detroit riverfront, a space where Detroit and Bedrock are primed to shine.

 


Mary Culler
President, Ford Motor Company Fund

Few projects have created as much buzz as when Ford Motor Co. announced it would revamp Detroit’s iconic Michigan Central Station. Mary Culler has become the enthusiastic voice behind Ford’s work to bring this 1913 landmark back to life. Her service as developmental director of this massive project has sparked community support and fresh economic life into the Corktown area. Culler’s enthusiasm for the campus and the city as a whole will keep interest high for years to come.

 


Zaid Elia
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, The Elia Group

There’s a reason Zaid Elia named his restaurant group Iconic – that is how he feels about Detroit, its architecture and its restaurant scene. Where others see a building past its prime, Elia sees a landmark ready for revival with purchases of 511 Woodward and Cadillac Tower in recent years. His attention to detail and to developing historic, character-driven properties is shown through The Elia Group, a commercial real estate development and management firm, as well as the Iconic Collection of restaurants including Parc Detroit, Anchor Bar and the Fountain Detroit.


Tracy Means
Principal Owner, Means Group

Tracy Means knew her husband, Eric, had a vision when he started Means Group in 1998. His death put Tracy at the forefront of the construction and facilities management company through her commitment to Eric’s legacy. Its key projects include the Metropolitan Building, Cambria Hotel and Highland Park redevelopment. Even with the pandemic, “our focus has remained on the vision my husband had from inception, which was to always create a better place for generations to come,” Means said.

 


Nicole Sherard- Freeman
Group Executive for Jobs, Economy and Detroit at Work, City of Detroit

There’s one word that drives Nicole Sherard-Freeman in her daily work, and that is JOBS. Her goal is to align Detroit’s growing economic development with its current population, making sure Detroiters are in line to gain new skills, boost financial literacy and change their family trees. Sherard-Freeman became Mayor Mike Duggan’s jobs guru in October 2020 and she’s working to make sure no Detroiter is left out of the city’s revival. The Mayor may call it The People’s Plan, but it’s Sherard-Freeman’s mission.

 


Katrina Turnbow
Digital Coach, Google Detroit

Katrina Turnbow has one core mission: To provide women, people of color, and other underrepresented populations with the education and direction needed to level the digital playing field. In 2017, the founder and CEO of Kanopi Social Digital Marketing became an advocate for Detroit’s small business community as a Google Digital Coach, training hundreds of people how to reach new customers online. That mission continued through COVID as Turnbow focused on helping these same businesses survive, adapt, and grow.

 


Michael S. Rafferty
President and Chief Executive Officer, New Detroit

From his Northwest Detroit neighborhood to his role as leader for one of Detroit’s most venerable racial-justice nonprofits, Michael S. Rafferty has taken up some of the city’s most challenging issues. That includes the pandemic’s disproportional impact on the Black community, access to vaccines for all socio-economic groups and 2020’s demonstrations against police violence. Through New Detroit, Rafferty is moving conversations about racism toward real solutions and encouraging organizations toward systemic change, education, leadership, and true allyship.