It Takes a Village: How Detroit High School Kids Are Teaching Me About Business and Community


By Scott Munekawa, MBA ‘17

I’ve spent a lot of time in Detroit Community High School in the Brightmoor neighborhood of the city. In fact, my wife was a teacher there and I coached the high school debate team.

As closely tied to that school as I was, I had no idea how orientation for the Michigan Ross Weekend MBA program would open my eyes to even more happening within the school’s walls.

Fellow Michigan Ross MBA student works with
Brightmoor student on wood carving project 

This year’s orientation, or Ross Impact Challenge, was shrouded in secrecy until we arrived to campus. Would we sit in a dark corner and crunch numbers? Would we practice elevator speeches and perfect handshakes? Would we play a shirts-vs-skins football practice with Coach Harbaugh?

Not so much. As it turns out, the challenge focused on the neighborhood of Brightmoor and the very students my wife and I have been working with for years.

Specifically it was focused on generating business concepts for the new Brightmoor Maker Space, a collaborative effort by the Stamps School of Art & Design and the Detroit Community Schools that is looking to create a place for youth and adults to build their creative making skills and incubate business ideas.

Every Saturday, dozens of these high school students come back to school to learn valuable skills in woodcraft, metal-work, printmaking, screen printing, rapid prototyping, and multimedia tools. In the Entrepreneurship in Action Program, they build bikes, create signs, design t-shirts, and craft several other items. The planned maker space will give these programs and initiatives a physical home and provide more resources to these budding entrepreneurs.

As new business school students, we were tasked with the job of helping students come up with an innovative business idea that might be a part of the new maker space. Very quickly, we realized that this would be harder than we thought.

Though often stereotypically portrayed as a blight-infested neighborhood haunted by its past, the Brightmoor I’ve witnessed, and the Brightmoor my classmates and I worked with during this program, was an established, vibrant community looking to the future with great hope in its eyes.

Over two days, my classmates and I divided into teams and strategized ways to effectively leverage the strengths of the proposed Brightmoor Maker Space and elevate the creative works of these high schools kids. The final teams competed in a ‘Shark Tank’ style competition, with judges from the Brightmoor neighborhood.

My team lost that competition. And I’m not going to lie — it stung.

But, as I look back on those orientation days in Brightmoor, I know I’m in the right place here at Ross.

I’m sure many other MBA programs profess to live up to their values, but at Ross, these values aren’t just draped on banners in our common area. They’re manifesting themselves in the real outcomes of the work my classmates and I are doing.

In fact, Ross is now partnering with the Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design to fund the development of further programs and resources for these kids in the Brightmoor Maker Space. Money raised in a crowdfunding campaign through Patronicity will be matched by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. That total will then be matched again by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Though I have long been a proponent of this school in Detroit, this experience has made me feel even more emphatic that the cause of the Brightmoor Maker Space should be supported.

Two years from now, when I stride across the stage to receive my diploma, I want to remember Brightmoor. I want to remember that amid business cases, balance sheets, and SWOT analyses are people creating and thriving. And I want to remember how we learned to astutely and respectfully partner with a community to teach and to learn. No doubt, this is a lesson I will carry with me even long after my years at Ross have passed.

Scott Munekawa is a student in the Michigan Ross Weekend MBA Program. In May, he participated in the Ross Impact Challenge, through the Sanger Leadership Center. The Patronicity campaign to fund the Brightmoor Maker Space runs until July 10, 2015.

Learn more on the Patronicity page