The community partnerships manager is looking to advance the quality of life for Detroiters and helping to rebuild Detroit one block at a time.
Growing up on the west side of Detroit, Shari Williams loved the multifaceted rhythms of her city with its colorful mix of characters from all walks of life. As the child of two police officers, she recalls how her neighborhood encompassed a plethora of Detroiters: middle class, working class, even drug dealers.
“Crime was a big thing to me,” Williams says. “I would hear about it all day.” Her parents would discuss “what run they made, what arrests they made … we had the drug house right across the street from our house. I remember seeing the activity that took place and wanted to help when I grew up.” Originally, everyone suggested that her drive to help people would be better served as a doctor.
By the time she reached Michigan State University, it was clear that she wanted to shift from the “physical sciences” to “social sciences.” She earned a degree in public policy and economics. When she returned to Detroit in 2004, the goal was to challenge herself and really start helping people. Williams started working on a master’s degree in urban planning from Wayne State University, and was employed at Focus: HOPE in 2011. There, she worked as a family and community partnerships manager, where she facilitated collaborative relationships among parents, the community and organizations.
This training – and her passion for her community – culminated in an opportunity to work for Detroit Future City, where today, she serves as the community partnerships manager. DFC’s mission aligns perfectly with Williams’ interests. That is, according to the website, a commitment “to advancing the quality of life for all Detroiters.” To that end, DFC partners with residents and “public and private stakeholders, and through data-driven strategies that promote the advancement of land use and sustainability, and community and economic development.”
The organization received its nonprofit status in 2016. “We’re really kinda fresh and new and we’re still trying to think about what that engagement piece looks like,” Williams says. “I actually feel personally responsible for driving that change. I’m really excited that I’ve been able to do this.” DFC also annually publishes important reports on the state of Detroit, the progress made, and what’s left to do. “I wanted to make an impact in my city, in my hometown of Detroit,” she says.
Williams recalls having a conversation with her then 4-year-old son about their neighborhood and why “Detroit is dirty,” in comparison to other areas such as the suburbs, downtown Detroit, and other metro Detroit areas, where his grandparents lived. At a young age, he could see the stark contrast, and this negative outlook impacted Williams’ drive to do better – to help others. “It also made me curious to know … if this 4-year-old is feeling this (way), what is this doing for (his) pride (in the city)? As a Detroiter, that’s what I wanted (to know).”
This goes back to DFC’s mission to “promote the advancement of land use and sustainability, and community and economic development.” Although the conversation about Detroit is, more often than not, positive for what’s already occurring, Williams knows it’ll take not just big developers but Detroit citizens to continue this growth. “A lot of times when people think about the flourish in Detroit they think about Sherwood Forest, (or) the villages, but the city is so much more than that,” Williams says. “I love my city.”
For more information about Detroit Future City, call 313-259-4407 or visit detroitfuturecity.com.