As Detroit’s resurgence continues to garner local, regional, and national attention, a new ground- breaking report: I Dream Detroit: The Voice and Vision of Women of Color on Detroit’s Future seeks to amplify the voices of those most absent from the public discourse on the city’s future — women of color.

The I Dream Detroit project works to bring the experience and ideas of women of color from all walks of life more fully to bear in shaping Detroit’s development plans. In Detroit, women make up 53 percent of the city’s population. Among all women, 91 percent are women of color (Black, Asian, and Latina) and a substantial portion of them live below the poverty line (56 percent of Latinas, 55 percent of Asians, and 40 percent of African Americans). Despite these odds and others, families led by women of color are self-employed and employ others as business owners, run nonprofits, hold public office, pick themselves up after incarceration, and help those in need. Detroit-based social activist Grace Lee Boggs called these everyday waymakers “solutionairies.”

I Dream Detroit launched in spring 2016 with a series of meetings with direct service providers, small business owners, community activists, union leaders, and elected officials from across the city. These leaders now serve as ongoing advisors and partners. Last summer, I Dream Detroit held six focus groups with partner organizations in different neighborhoods that attracted more than 100 women. Additionally, nearly 500 women offered their opinions through a citywide survey.

Key Findings:

  • The majority — 71 percent — of survey respondents do not feel included in Detroit’s economic development plans.
  • Among business owners and nonprofit leaders who respondent to the survey (19 percent of respondents), 52 percent report employing people from disadvantaged communities.
  • Education doesn’t insulate women of color from economic insecurity. Despite high levels of education among survey respondents (28 percent with some college education, 34 percent holding undergraduate degrees, 30 percent earning advanced degrees), only 50 percent of survey respondents reported earning a living wage. Among mothers with dependent children, 60 percent reported not earning a living wage.
  • Women of color report making ends meet by working together — 52 percent lend each other money, 52 percent share transportation, and 30 percent watch each other’s children.


  • Detroit should provide capital investment in solutionaries’ enterprises. Lack or limited access to capital is the number one barrier to businesses and nonprofits fully actualizing their potential as economic engines.
  • Solutionaries need a space for cross-community collaboration and support. These spaces can be used to share and replicate successful models and set city-wide policy priorities.
  • Solutionaries should be involved in economic development decision-making spaces. These women are thought leaders and strategists, yet 73 percent of survey respondents say big business owners and investors are the ones shaping Detroit’s economic development.
  • Solutionaries need a pipeline for recruitment into key leadership positions. These leaders and strategists should be recruited into key positions and onto boards of directors of businesses, nonprofits, and foundations in Detroit.

Read the full report here [PDF]
Find sharable graphics here.
Find I Dream Detroit city-wide survey results here [PDF].

 Kimberly Freeman Brown is a consultant on the IPS Black Workers Initiative and the lead author of "I Dream Detroit." Marc Bayard is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and the director of the Black Workers Initiative.

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