The Power of Community-Based Events


A diverse collection of local business owners, educators, and community members recently gathered at Detroit Sip, a black-owned coffee shop on the city’s westside, to celebrate a special group of community-minded leaders in Detroit. 

The event was a kickoff celebration for the American Express Leadership Academy at CBMA Fellowship, a national initiative dedicated to developing leaders who are contributing to the progress of Black boys and men. Each year, the program selects 24 participants who are deeply engaged in the cities of Detroit, MI; Oakland, CA; Milwaukee, WI; Baltimore, MD; Louisville, KY; and Greensboro, NC.

Three years ago, CBMA engaged Strategic Community Partners in the design and launch of this groundbreaking fellowship program. For this year’s group, we were honored to work with our partners at CBMA once again to uplift the 2019 Detroit cohort by hosting the celebratory reception. Our team was intentional about crafting a community-based event that allowed attendees to create meaningful connections that could lead to future opportunities.

This commitment to community was demonstrated in several aspects of the evening.  


The Importance of Location

Opened in 2016 on W. McNichols, Detroit Sip is a coffee shop that strives to “unite the community, one sip at a time.” We intentionally chose this black-owned and women-owned business to be the host venue for the event because we recognize the power of investing in local small businesses, especially ones that are community-focused. From the Detroit-themed art on the walls to the motivational quotes painted on the table tops, the space created a sense of hometown identity and made the event a uniquely Detroit occasion. 

The 2019 AMEX Leadership Academy Detroit Fellows. From left to right: Timothy Jackson, Geno Gresham, Kimberly Vann, Jennifer Vahn, and Richard Grundy.

The 2019 AMEX Leadership Academy Detroit Fellows. From left to right: Timothy Jackson, Geno Gresham, Kimberly Vann, Jennifer Vahn, and Richard Grundy.

Focusing on What Really Matters

We also wanted to ensure that the Detroit fellows were at the core of the event. This meant providing ample time for attendees to network with each fellow and explore ways they could help grow their work. This year’s Detroit cohort contains a wide range of leaders who are contributing to the achievement of Black men and boys in their own unique ways.

Geno Gresham (Protect Detroit’s Future)

Jennifer Mahn (H.E.L.P)

Kimberly Vann (VIP Mentoring)

Richard Grundy (Journi

Timothy Jackson (Detroit H.I.V.E.S). 

Attendees also had the opportunity to learn about each fellow through an interactive presentation that shared their background and organization. The evening concluded with a certificate of appreciation ceremony for fellows presented by leadership from CBMA’s local and national teams.  


Following the event, Dr. Leah Van Belle, Education Director of the Michigan Department of Education, shared a reflection that I feel truly synthesized the evening’s experience:

 “It [the reception] was a wonderful opportunity, not only networking but also for replenishing our reserves. As Dr. Phyllis Hubbard always reminds us, we must give to others ‘from our excess, not our essence.’ Coming together in celebration and community is a powerful way to restore our individual and collective essence so that we have more to bring to those we serve.”

Dr. Van Belle’s sentiments demonstrate the power that coming together as a community in the community can do for the individual and larger collective.  What began as a simple idea for a reception became an opportunity for restoration, community building, and rejuvenation. I’ve learned through partnership with CBMA and community-minded planning that collective healing can occur in any space or occasion. 

Click here to learn more about the 2019 American Express Leadership Academy at CBMA Fellows and subscribe to our newsletter for monthly updates on events and opportunities from around the community!

If your organization is looking to host a community event, or if your just searching for a good cup of coffee, check out Detroit Sip! They’re open Thursday-Sunday on Detroit’s westside.