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Cheryl Simon


Detroit Food Policy Council

2934 Russell St.
Detroit, Michigan 48219
Cheryl Simon gained her wisdom and knowledge from years in Detroit’s nonprofit sector before taking on the coordinating role with Detroit Food Policy Council, a group shaping food policy and championing a more just and environmentally conscious local food system. She invites those most impacted by food policy to the table to partake in both the discussion and the decisions. 
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Detroit Food Policy Council Coordinator Cheryl Simon: Being a leader means having a willingness to lead by example and to do all aspects of the work. It also means making every effort to ensure that people who are most impacted by the work are at the table and participating through the whole process, from identifying and analyzing the issues to creating to implementing possible solutions to evaluating results. It means knowing when and how to step up and when to step back and encourage others to lead. One of the roles that the Detroit Food Policy Council would like to play in the food system is in leadership development. We are particularly interested in cultivating leaders in the food movement that come from the
We need to recognize that social sector work brings tremendous value to the quality of life in Michigan and that this value is not always measurable in traditional ways.
What is your dream for kids?
My dream for my own children and all children is that they have the opportunity to become the best human beings they can be and that the environment supports them. One of the great unsolved challenges in this community is racial equity and healing. We must find ways to talk with each other and really listen and learn from others’ histories and experiences. If we don’t do that, we can’t break down the personal and institutional barriers that have led to injustice and created opportunities for some, but not all, children.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
We need to recognize that social sector work brings tremendous value to the quality of life in Michigan and that this value is not always measurable in traditional ways. Quantitative measures are important, but we should not lose sight of the fact that we are talking about individual lives. Being able to measure our impact and communicate the unique value that our sector brings would elevate the social sector as being as important as the private and public sectors.  
One thing we could all do is to continually ask ourselves is “Who is not at the table?”  By that I mean two things: Are the individuals who are most impacted by the work we are doing being sought out for participation in the development of solutions? What are we doing to cultivate leadership from these individuals? And, what other organizations are doing work in this area that we could partner with?  All of us want to know that we are making a difference, but for many in our community, the decisions that are made in the “social sector” can literally be life and death issues for our neighbors. Those neighbors need to be at the table.  Sometimes that means putting aside our personal and organizational egos to work more collaboratively with others for the common good.
How do you know you’re making progress?
At the organization level, the Detroit Food Policy Council is developing a three-year action plan with goals, objectives, and timelines that we will measure ourselves against. Because our work is about changing the food system, rather than direct services, it is a little more challenging to measure, but it can be done. 
At the food system level, I know that we are making progress because there are more residents and organizations working
All of us want to know that we are making a difference, but for many in our community, the decisions that are made in the “social sector” can literally be life and death issues for our neighbors.
on programs, policy and evaluation than ever. There are relationships being created between people and groups that did not exist five years ago. I have worked in Detroit for almost 25 years and over that time, the level of collaboration and cooperation in the social sector has steadily increased. We have more work to do to make sure our work is inclusive but it is encouraging to see the progress.  
What are you most proud of?
I have been a part of some terrific work in Detroit so it’s hard to pick just one thing so I’ll mention two. I spent eight years with the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP) and was the staff lead on the organization’s first strategic plan and fundraising campaign called Lighting the Spark. Among other things, we were able to raise the startup funding to develop an extracurricular science, math, and engineering program for students in kindergarten to grade three. The children who were in that first class are now in college! 

I also spent two years with the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy responsible for fundraising, membership and government relations. During that time, we created the membership program around the sale of named bricks and pavers and received the organization’s largest corporate and individual gifts to the capital campaign. My children and I love to spend time on the RiverWalk and am proud to have been a part of helping to create this community asset.
Reflecting on your career, what would you say was your greatest professional learning experience? 
I have been blessed to work in Detroit, where I have lived most of my life as well, on important issues and with some extraordinary leaders. I especially value the time I worked at Focus: HOPE with Eleanor Josaitis. She taught me the importance of leading by example and having a heart for people first. Eleanor constantly sought the advice and input of those who were most affected by poverty, injustice and racism. I witnessed the power of her passion and compassion. She was able to engage anyone, no matter where they were from.  When she had a conversation with you, she was totally in the moment. People responded to her authenticity. She was able to go from listening to the challenges of a neighbor who was picking up food from the Food Program to meeting with some of our community’s most powerful public and corporate leaders about the need to create education and job opportunities for those who had been left out.  She did this with a rare combination of intensity, grace, and humility. 
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Program Profile


  • Detroit Food Policy Council
    The Detroit Food Policy Council is committed to nurturing the development and maintenance of a sustainable, localized food system and a food-secure city of Detroit in which all of its residents are hunger-free, healthy and benefit economically from ...


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