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Angela Reyes


Madres Unidas (MomU)

1211 Trumbull St.
Detroit, Michigan 48124
As executive director of Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, Angela Reyes believes that failing schools and a lack of jobs create an environment ripe for youth to fall into crime or drugs – or simply lose hope. DHDC is changing the outlook for southwest Detroit youth and parents, and community members are becoming their own agents of change. 
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation Executive Director Angela Reyes: Being a leader to me means serving the people in my community – being a “servant leader.” It means listening to and learning from the people we serve, being willing to change direction when necessary, and being humble enough to know when I’ve made mistakes. It also means being able to be a leader of leaders, which sometimes requires stepping back and leading from behind or alongside, rather from the front, or maybe even not at all. 
What is your dream for kids?
My dream for kids is what any parent or grandparent wants for their own family – to be loved, cherished, protected, provided for, and given every opportunity to become the best person they can be.
It sounds simple, but this dream has become perhaps the single most challenging thing for our society to accomplish. Our ever-changing educational system does not prepare our youth for college or the real work world, and the school drop-out rate is unacceptably high.
Our broken immigration system only serves to exacerbate this situation, and the school-to-prison pipeline seems to grow stronger with every passing year.
Our broken immigration system only serves to exacerbate this situation, and the school-to-prison pipeline seems to grow stronger with every passing year. Without educational and employment opportunities, many of our young people lose hope and turn to crimes, gangs, and substance abuse. I believe that if we can address these issues, we will reestablish hope within our communities and have a major impact on many of our other social ills.
I also feel that political empowerment is crucial to the people in my community. Real change will not occur only at the community level. We need to be able to access the political system in order to make "vertical" changes as well. In order to do this it is vitally important that our people find their voice and make it heard. 
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
There are two areas that I think can have a major impact on the work of nonprofits in Michigan:
  • Create a venue where community organizations’ leaders can have thoughtful discussions about solutions and what is working to address the many pressing issues and challenges facing our state and city. There is a lot of great work being done on the ground, but we rarely have the opportunity to add our voices to policy decisions and planning being made at the local and state levels.
  • Provide operating/unrestricted funding to organizations so that they can better survive the economic unpredictability. When programming funding gets cut, organizations will eliminate the program, or frequently continue to do the work unfunded, but our fixed/operating costs still remain and organizations cannot survive without a way to cover those costs.
How do you know you’re making progress?
I can see the impact of our work and know that we are making progress through the changes that are being made in individuals’ lives and the community. We often ask ourselves, “What difference have we made in our community?” In a very fundamental way, it’s the life trajectory of the youth and families we serve.  One of the reasons that I started this organization was that I was going to far too many funerals for young people, far more than graduations. Today, that situation has reversed – this year alone, we have had upwards of 20 young people from our program graduate from high school and enroll in college – which is close to 100% of the youth in our program that are high school seniors.
Our programs are designed to increase community members’ capacity as agents of change and self-determination in their own families, schools and communities.  We recognize that change in individuals is fundamental to the development of community self-determination and transformation. When we see parents and youth mobilizing themselves, and taking the lead to impact their community and schools, and that they themselves now believe in their collective ability to achieve change, we know that we are making progress.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the fact that several leaders have emerged from our programs – both youth and parents. They have taken on leadership roles in our organization (80% of my staff have come through our programs), as well as in several other organizations in our community and throughout the region. I think this is one of the most important legacies that one can leave, is new leadership in our community.
How did your experiences living in Southwest Detroit help frame your leadership style or impact your organization’s mission?
I have been a community activist for a number of years, going back to my involvement with the Chicano-Boricua Colectivo and working as an advocate for youth as a teenager myself back in the 70s. Since that time, I have continued to be active, particularly in the Detroit Latino community. My involvement in youth issues are those most significant in my life.
Having seen the devastating effects of violence on our youth, including having to bury many children, I have been determined to work towards changing the conditions in our community.
This includes my leadership role at a local and statewide level in creating solutions to youth gangs and violence, which has been an issue very dear to my heart. Having been born here and being a life-long Detroiter, working with youth and raising four children in the Southwest Detroit community, this issue has been of particular significance to me. Having seen the devastating effects of violence on our youth, including having to bury many children, I have been determined to work towards changing the conditions in our community. Much of my activity has been focused around these issues. This also led me to be involved in ensuring that Latinos have a voice in the decision-making and political process affecting our community, so I have worked on a number of policy advocacy and civic engagement efforts. 
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