Brilliant Detroit is working to ensure kids and families have access to the opportunities and resources they need to succeed in and out of the classroom. Brilliant Detroit’s programs run the gamut from yoga, to literacy tutoring, to music, to technology, and everything in between. Their activities and network support kids from a young age so that they enter the classroom ready to learn. Brilliant Detroit brings families together to learn, grow, and support one another.
What inspired you to co-found Brilliant Detroit?
In Detroit, over 50% of children under 5 are in poverty and over 30,000 kids do not have early childhood learning options. I am a first generation high school graduate who grew up in poverty, so I understand what these kids and families are going through. Our goal is to create “kid success” neighborhoods, which means that kids have everything they need to succeed within walking distance. It’s a hyper-local approach that is focused on the people and community. We repurpose houses in each community where we run our programming. A lot of parents have to go to organizations all over the state to get the resources they need. We are a center of love, safety, and growth that provides all of that for them in our houses. So far, we’ve seen significant improvements in all our measures. We’re trying to be more than just a program, we want to change lives.
What does a Brilliant Detroit house look and feel like?
You are always greeted with warmth and immediately feel like you are welcome. Our staff knows you and you are probably greeted with food and drink. It feels like going to a grandmother’s house. You’re surrounded by neighbors in similar situations as you so you can build that support network. As you walk through the house, you see different rooms where programs are running. What you need when you are pregnant is different from what you need when you have a 10 year old child, so we have programs to meet you where you are. There could be a breastfeeding program, a tutoring program, a nutrition program, and a parenting class all happening under one roof. There are books around that promote good literacy habits for kids and adults. Every home has outdoor space. We use resident-led design so the outdoor space reflects what the community needs. In our homes, you always feel like you belong.
How do you decide what neighborhoods to work in?
We only go to neighborhoods where we are invited. Oftentimes, a block club or small community organization reaches out to us to see if we’ll consider them. We have to do a set of listening sessions to make sure there are enough people weighing in on the decision. There has to be interest and we have to understand the neighborhood. There also has to be enough density in the neighborhood of kids and enough people who are motivated to participate. The neighborhood is involved every step of the way, from picking the house, to renovating the house, to figuring out what programs they need. We find the nucleus in the community and work our way out from there.
Where do you hope to take Brilliant Detroit going forward?
Currently, we serve over 12,000 people in 16 communities and are looking to expand to 24 sites by 2024. We’re reaching that point where we are starting to actually change the statistics. We are looking to grow nationally and have been contacted by 17 cities and 4 countries to start our program there. Most likely, we’ll start with 3 places and go from there. We have close to 3,000 volunteers right now and will find more volunteers in the next cities we work with. Our model is all about the community, so we need to listen and learn about these places to bring real change. If we do our work well, we can guarantee that zip codes do not predict if a child’s future is bright or not.