Seeing Detroit’s resilience up close during a summer of change

Ford School of Public Policy

Managing the fight against homelessness, creating employment opportunities, and reforming law enforcement in Detroit are complex issues at any time. Add an economic recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the increased activism of the Black Lives Matter movement, and it has been a unique summer in the city.

Three first-year Ford School students worked in the Detroit mayor’s office over the summer to help tackle those issues, thanks to the David Bohnett Foundation Leadership and Public Service Fellowship, now in its 10th year. They come from different professional backgrounds before attending the Ford School: a journalism career in the Midwest, work for a national workforce development association in DC, and law enforcement in Ypsilanti. All are committed to improving local governance.

When Safiya Merchant (MPP ‘21) worked at newspapers in suburban Chicago and Battle Creek, she observed issues but could not act upon them, and that led to frustration. “The Ford School was the place for me, with its emphasis on social policy. I had covered education equity issues and wanted to work more closely with communities to solve systemic policy challenges. This Fellowship allowed me to go to grad school and follow that dream,” she says.

For Kevin Naud (MPP ‘21) attending the Ford School felt like coming home. He is a native of Ann Arbor and the son of two alumni, a first for the school. After five years in Washington, DC, working primarily for the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, Naud knew local workorce development was his passion, but he needed more local experience and policy tools. Landing in the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development for the fellowship was a perfect fit. “Between the financial support and the internship opportunity, getting this fellowship was a game-changer for me,” he says.

Alyshia Dyer (MPP/MSW ‘22) worked as a police officer in the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office for 7 years prior to coming to the Ford School. Working in Ypsilanti Township, an area where she grew up, she focused on community policing and family engagement. “As a police officer, I found myself really just doing social work. Most of the calls for service in the community were mental health related,” she says.

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