A year-long series featuring Detroiters who are driving positive change in their communities.
Donna Givens-Davidson, President & CEO,
East Side Community Network
This experienced, steadfast city servant leads a generous and efficient
nonprofit that refuses to let Detroit’s East Side fall to the wayside.
It often feels rare and special nowadays to encounter a group of people so committed to one goal that every action they undertake is dedicated to that outcome, whether the aim is to draw attention to a human rights crisis or uplift an entire sector of a community.
East Side Community Network is an inspiring example of the latter, a powerhouse non-profit doing the work of three organizations to bring prosperity, equity and voice to Detroit’s East Side neighborhoods.
“I wasn’t the founder of ECN, they were doing great work long before I came along. But there’s never been any question that what ECN does, what I’ve done all my life, is what I was meant to do. I’ve always loved helping people. As a native raised Detroiter, helping my people is natural and easy to me,” says Donna Givens-Davidson, President and CEO of ECN.
According to Givens-Davidson and the organization’s mission statement, ECN is guided by the four main principles they’d like to see fostered on the East Side of the city in particular as well as Detroit at large- climate visibility, business and economic development, youth support and community engagement.
“The main goals never change, but the ways we achieve them are as varied as the needs of the people we serve. Right now, we’re finishing up flood cleanup from the heavy rains, but also still incredibly focused on COVID vaccination efforts and easing the burden of cost and transport for families. Those things might be in the forefront, but nothing takes a backseat in regards to anything,” Givens-Davidson says.
If something community-wise needs to be addressed on the Jefferson and Chene side of the city and it’s within their power, ECN will be first in line to advocate for residents and businesses that call the East Side home. They’ve been active since 1984 and have made impressive strides in all areas of their focus. Credits to their efforts include the Mack Avenue Improvement Plan and Business Association (a multi-sector plan and business collective to reinvigorate Mack Avenue), The East Side Job Board and Climate Advisory Group, and The Vault Teen Center, to name just a few.
“We aren’t segregated to only helping the East Side, but that is our primary area. Detroit’s ‘renaissance’ is slow to reach many areas and even slower to reach others. We want all of Detroit to have an equal voice and strength. All citizens deserve the same quality of life and input on their city’s issues regardless of zip code,” Givens-Davidson says.
Givens-Davidson herself has a record of public service and positive nonprofit work that’s nothing to sneeze at. She obtained two degrees in quick succession, a Masters of Education Leadership from Wayne State University and a Bachelor’s in Political Science from the University of Michigan, before launching a three and a half decades long career as one of her city’s biggest and most efficient advocates. Before finding herself at ECN, she served in leadership positions at several other nonprofit organizations such as the Youth Development Commission, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit and the Michigan College Access Network. In between running all the operations at ECN, she still finds time to co-host a weekly podcast, Authentically Detroit, with fellow Detroiter and media activist Orlando Bailey.
“To me, doing this work feels like taking control of the narrative of not only history, but this city and how we allow ourselves to be seen and treated. It would be nice and ideal to be listened to and treated like a priority and we push for policy changes, but we as a people can do that ourselves in the meantime. We as Black Detroiters can support our businesses and make sure our children flourish,” she says.
This fall ECN is debuting a few new events and installations they’ve been planning and working on over the last long year. With the kickoff of their inaugural Eastside Homecoming Weekend which is set to last from Sept. 17-19, ECN will give the community a first look at the soon-to-open Stoudamire Wellness Hub, built and named in honor of community titan and beloved city businessman Marlowe Stoudamire who passed at age 43 from COVID complications.
“The Stoudamire hub is something I’m really proud and excited for. It stands for what Marlowe stood for, providing four corners of support and connectivity for the community he loved. There will be some sorrow as we remember those we lost, including Marlowe, but those people never truly leave us or the community, and the memories keep us moving forward,” Givens-Davidson says.
For more information on East Side Community Network, or if you would like to contribute, visit ecn-detroit.org.
Ford Fund believes that investing in the needs of our youth is an essential step toward empowering our communities for a promising future.
East Side Community Network has been driving positive transformation on Detroit’s East Side for many years. Donna Givens- Davidson and her team work tirelessly on initiatives to benefit the heart of the neighborhood residences within the eastside community
Ford Motor Company has long recognized the opportunity to enhance neighborhoods by investing in innovative programs and initiatives. Our Ford Resource and Engagement Center (FREC) located on the East Side of Detroit in Fisher Upper Elementary School, provides programming for students and their families that drive
social and economic mobility. Services offered at the FREC range from basic needs to economic growth to quality of life and are designed to provide the community with the skills, resources, and knowledge they need to empower success.
Ford is proud to commend Donna Givens- Davidson and East Side Community Network for embracing the east side of Detroit as a community of choice where residents can live, work, play and thrive with pride.
– Pamela Alexander, director of community development for Ford Motor Company