An Interview with Ahmad M. Ezzedine of the Detroit Revitalization Fellows Program

Last fall we dedicated Issue 28 to Detroit and New Orleans, calling them two “Comeback Cities.” One focus was looking at programs in each city and asking if what worked for one might work for another.

Now, the Detroit Revitalization Fellows Program is asking that question. Wayne State University, in partnership with The Kresge Foundation and The Hudson-Webber Foundation, is in the midst of launching a two-year, work and education-based fellowship program modeled after New Orleans’ Rockefeller Foundation Redevelopment Fellowships, which were administered by the Center for Urban Redevelopment Excellence (CUREx) at the University of Pennsylvania and which recruited professionals from across the country to work rebuild the city.

The Detroit Revitalization Fellows Program is hoping to do the same and is currently recruiting mid-level professionals (Applications Due April 15), who will be placed in two-year job agreements at organizations working to improve Detroit. At the same time, fellows will receive specialized executive development-style education through Wayne State University.

Next American City talked to Ahmad M. Ezzedine, associate vice president for educational outreach and international programs at Wayne State University, who is overseeing and developing the program to find out more.

Christine Fisher: Can you provide a history of the Detroit Revitalization Fellows Program? What inspired the idea?

We learned about the CUREx fellows who were working in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the impact they had on the city. This led us to inquire more about the program and through that process, we connected with Valerie Piper who was the Executive Director of CUREx then.

How does the Detroit Revitalization Fellows Program compare to the CUREx program in New Orleans?

The concept of placing fellows in key organizations in the city is the same. The program however, will become specialized to the city of Detroit and will become focused on the issues that we are facing here and the realities that we have here in the city. So from that perspective, it’s localized… In New Orleans, it was focused primarily on real estate, land use, planning. We will have another focus on economic development here for example. So some of the things are going to be the same from a content stand point, but overall it will be a Detroit program.

What long-term affect do you hope the Detroit Fellows Program will have on the city?

25 to 30 people will not change the city overnight. Our plan is to plant a seed for a city that can be built in the years to come.

More importantly, these fellows are not working in a vacuum. They will be complimenting the work of many organizations and people who are already entrenched and working and have great initiatives in the city, and collectively they will have a very positive impact on the city. We hope that will create a re-imagined city of Detroit that is prosperous and vibrant and filled with talent folks.

Many organizations have fellowship programs that feature or promote young professionals working to improve cities. Why is there so much emphasis on young and mid-level professionals?

This is the group that is going to lay the foundation for the next decade and the next century. This is the group that has the drive, the knowledge and means to change the trajectory of what is happening in cities and go beyond the traditional social, political and cultural structures that have led to some of the problems that we currently are facing.

Is there anything that might challenge the success of this program?

Change in general is hard and certain aspects of this program are about implementing change. What we want to make sure is that fellows are placed in placements where they can contribute to the success of the organization they are working at and ultimately the city. That’s why we will be careful in working with the employers – to make sure whatever positions they are creating for the fellows are substantive. That’s why we’re going to be very careful and very selective in the process of identifying folks who, not only have the background and experiences, but also have the drive and passion of wanting to be in Detroit and contribute to what we have here.

What are you looking for in potential applicants?

We want folks who have 3-5 years of experience in business, urban planning, development, law – those types of disciplines; preferably a graduate degree in one of those areas as well; and like I said, people who are excited about this kind of work and want to be part of the opportunities and solutions that we are hoping to come up with in this city.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Detroit is an exciting place. We are very excited about the program, and we look forward to having the best and brightest from the country applying and considering applying to this program.

More information and fellowship applications can be found at http://wayne.edu/detroitfellows/. The application deadline is April 15. Winners will be announced in June after semifinalists are screened.

Tags: built environmentdetroitnew orleansanchor institutions