Children are our future but we don’t always do the best job preparing them for it. Day-to-day decisions without guidance can have unforeseen consequences, ones that can set a child’s life on a completely different trajectory – headed toward good, or something worse. Having grown up on the northeast side of Detroit, Calvin Colbert, the executive director of Detroit Impact, knows the importance of steering kids toward a positive path, which is why he’s dedicated his life to youth support in the city.
“When you’re living in an urban environment, there are so many temptations and things you can become involved in (and) many times young people get caught up with negative things,” he explains. “Young people are the greatest investment in our future, and if we don’t prepare them correctly then all of us will suffer.”
Colbert, who has training in Martin Luther King Conflict Resolution and nonviolence and restorative practices, along with nonprofit administrative training through Wayne State University, started his work as the youth leader at his church, The Church of the Nazarene.
At the same time, he worked as a greenskeeper on a local golf course where he suffered an injury to his hand that took around five years to heal. He’d use that time to be the voice for young people on a committee that was looking to do ministry outreach in the city.
By 1991, the church had established the Detroit Impact community center on Greenfield on the city’s west side, which offered food assistance along with youth and senior programs, and more. In 1995, Colbert took the executive director position with the center and, over time, it became more youth-focused until it eventually became both an educational resource for kids ages 6-17 and a safe space.
“We began to be a light in the community because after-school programs began to shut down, recreation centers began to shut down,” Colbert says. “At that time, you had young people talking about street names and neighborhoods that they would claim and they were fighting over it – young people were actually being killed over that foolishness – (and) there was not a lot of available safe places for young people to go. Detroit Impact became that in the community.”
The center would take in kids from all over the city, bring them together and provide them much-needed resources and activities, at least for the time. “We could all be in the center together but when it was over, I had to let the west Greenfield (group) out first then Greenfield east and then the Plymouth (group) because they’d go back into that rivalry, but Detroit Impact was known as a neutral zone where we could come together,” Colbert says.
Today, Detroit Impact still stands as a safe zone for Detroit youth but has expanded its services to include programming on renewable energy and pet care, self-esteem building, financial planning, after-school activities, summer programs and much more. It also stands as a collaborative partner with local schools, community organizations and larger entities like Microsoft to find and develop other resources to help kids in the city – and Colbert has no intention of slowing that work down.
“Detroit Impact is the give back. I’m giving the community back what was given to me that allowed me to become successful,” he says. “The need (for Detroit Impact) is greater today than ever before because young people are ready for a change. They have been through all of these challenges and they saw (that) it’s not a successful pathway. We want to give them a pathway to successful futures.”