Too many Detroit children have inherited an unfortunate, unfair set of economic and educational inequities. Too often, when we speak or hear of Detroit, we hear or speak of scarcity rather than abundance. But I know better.
For the past 18 years, I’ve had the honor of serving as co-founder and co-director of The Better Detroit Youth Movement, a non-profit coalition driven by incredible individuals and groups working together with youth to improve the quality of life and learning for our younger generations.
In my conversations with young people over the years, most tell me they would love to be part of something better, but too many don’t know where to go to grow. A young man we mentored many years ago recently told me, ”If it wasn’t for you, I would’ve been in jail or hell.”
The work is the reward when you’re able to connect a young person to opportunities. The reward is the work when adult strangers thank you for helping their child. The work is rewarding when you harness the power and value of collaboration and witness the inspiring works of so many amazing youth-serving individuals and groups who show up to help our children believe, achieve and succeed.
My truth is that Detroit has the resources to improve the quality of life and learning for her children. To prove it, in 2016, I created a Google map with more than 325 youth resources. When we could not find funding to turn the map into a mobile app, a young man on our youth advisory board said, “You know those brownies JaJa (my daughter) and you bake for our youth events? Why don’t we help you bake and sell them to fund the map project and turn your brownies into our own golden girl scout cookie?”
So, over the next two Augusts, we spent many warm afternoons sweating in hot kitchens with cool kids — my kids, kids on the block, and kids in our youth group — testing, tasting, and tweaking about a dozen brownie recipes. We talked about taste and texture, the balance of flavors, the basics of baking, and ingredients for success. They learned things like measuring, the metric system, mindfulness, patience, and confidence. We agreed we didn’t have to be the best brownie but the best brownie we can be.
After a lot of fun, funny conversations, and a lot of learning (and some burning), we finally baked a batch of Better Detroit Brownies we felt worthy of and that we felt anyone would enjoy. Once we had a dark cocoa brownie recipe, we also decided to create a unique variety called Sweet & Spicy. It might be a bit different, but we all decided, it’s okay to be different because sometimes different means special.
On November 4, 2018, we brought four kids and 250 brownies to The World’s Largest Food Truck Rally on Belle Isle. We sold out in less than two hours, and our Sweet & Spicy brownie was a bestseller! We now had the social proof, consumer approval, and greater confidence we needed to officially launch The Better Detroit Brownie Company.
Today, The Better Detroit Brownie Company, LLC, is licensed, insured, and ServSafe Food Manager certified. Our dark cocoa and sweet & spicy gourmet brownies (and forthcoming vegan/gluten-free varieties we believe will open many healthy doors) are commercially baked with proceeds supporting various community and youth causes, and the ongoing development of our regional youth resource mapping effort.
Baked by popular demand, we’ve been sold at The Atrium (Walled Lake), Flavors of Jamaica (Pontiac), Rosita’s Treats (Shelby Township), Redwood Grill (Waterford), Grant’s Pizza House and CHOMP (Rochester Hills). We will soon be on the shelves of five Hollywood Markets surrounding Detroit. A waiting list includes The Congregation Detroit, and Seasons Market, among others. I’m proudly intimidated by an opportunity to get Better Detroit Brownies on Meijers’ shelves.
These community partnerships with restaurants and retailers are wonderful opportunities to give consumers a delicious reason to open their mouths, hearts, purses, and wallets in supporting our communities of children. On the back label of every packaged Better Detroit Brownie is a QR code that connects these customers to the regional youth resource map that still needs to be refined and repopulated as too many youth-serving individuals and groups did not survive the pandemic.
We also engage the Greater Detroit business community to support a collective responsibility we should all share with a “Brownies For Our Children” initiative. Partnering businesses commit to the purchase of a brownie tray on a regular, recurring basis every 30 to 180 days, as a delicious gift for employees, customers/clients, and/or family and friends.
A key to success is scaling production to meet demand. So we are now working with middle and high school students to enrich them with personal development, emotional social learning, business technology, digital marketing, social entrepreneurship, and culinary skills. Some will intern to learn and lead various functions of The Better Detroit Brownie Company. Teen engagement strategies are vital as we can only enrich youth we first effectively engage. Better engagement taps into the interests of most young people today: sports, music, fashion, video games/technology, and entrepreneurship.
Most young people covet something positive and productive to take part in, and this is a powerful opportunity for them to make money and give back to others as they grow. My twelve-year-old JaJa made $115 in less than an hour selling brownies. She kept $65 and donated $50 to the BDYM. She now knows she’s here to help others, and has a way she can. Our vision is to create a new (teen)age of social entrepreneurs and transition to a “for youth / by youth,” employee-owned social enterprise led by teenagers and young adults.
Since the pandemic and moving forward, The BDYM is pivoting its energies to support existing youth resources rather than resurfacing as another youth group. Our current mission is to 1) generate more awareness of and support for the wonderful works of youth-serving individuals and organizations; 2) connect more children and families to youth programs and events so more children succeed in school and thrive in life; and, 3) leverage the value and power of a more robust, cohesive, informed and collaborative youth-serving region.
The Better Detroit Brownie Company “fun-raiser” program is an effective way for youth-serving resources to raise funds, and it introduces youth to the values of social entrepreneurship as they earn money, and learn about business technology and digital marketing in support of a worthy cause.
We’ll soon be launching a monthly e-newsletter called “FOR GREATER DETROIT CHILDREN”, to highlight the wide world of youth resources available so more children, primarily teens, can be connected to people and places that can help them succeed in school and thrive in life.
I believe all most children need are caring adults who want to help them succeed. I also believe most adults have something of value to contribute to children, and that many are willing to invest in their success if they are just shown how. In this troubled world and these tenuous times, our children need us more than ever before.
Please consider ways you can support our efforts and/or partner with us as we strive to make (and bake) a Greater Detroit our children deserve.
To learn more about the Better Detroit Brownie Company and support their mission visit; https://betterdetroitbrownies.com/