Reflecting on Four Years of Community-Focused Work

Many people don’t know my story. 

They know Chanel Hampton - Founder and President of Strategic Community Partners. They see a woman in a suit, sitting at tables that help shape the future of Detroit and communities across the country. But that is only part of my journey.

What people don’t see is 13-year-old Chanel who began as a bus girl, convincing a local restaurant owner to hire her under the table as she began living on her own. They don’t see 16-year-old Chanel who ducked and dodged the foster care system for three years until she was the legal age to become an emancipated minor or the high school student who raised kids, cleaned homes, worked 60-80 hours a week, and was a zero-hour jazz band nerd determined to get a full-ride to college. 

Chanel Hampton speaks to students participating in the Urban Alliance internship program.

Chanel Hampton speaks to students participating in the Urban Alliance internship program.

I recently had the privilege of speaking to 50 high school students who had completed their year-long Urban Alliance internships and were presenting to community and business leaders as part of their Public Speaking Challenge. For the interns, the event represented a pivotal point in their lives as they prepared to go off and start college and their careers. The day also represented an important moment for me: four years earlier on the same day, I embarked on my own journey to defy the odds (again, in a different chapter of my life) and launch an organization that would do right by the kids and communities I cared about. I wanted to build an organization that empowered people who looked like me and allowed them to see all of their power, brilliance, and potential.

The result was Strategic Community Partners - a community-focused organization that works with local and national groups by advising, designing, and managing initiatives that advance equity. The vision and impact for the organization were expansive. Prior to launching SCP, I founded and oversaw diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives that were adopted across a national organization with over fifty regions; led a national recruitment team; and was curating and hosting national equity summits and collaborative convenings for leaders from across the country. While still leading national work, I moved back home to Detroit--where I longed to be. 

I recognized a need nationally--and at home in Detroit--for an organization that was pairing strategic execution with community and cultural context--operating with passion, excellence, and integrity. There was a need for more organizations leading through strategic, equitable, and integrity-based efforts that did right by parents like my mom who struggled and made miracles happen for her kids to have a better life than her. Detroit, and similar communities across the country also needed organizations that would do right by kids like me and provide them with access to quality educational experiences, meaningful life opportunities, and advocate for equity and justice. The end result would be helping to create a more equitable society where the adversities I faced (and so many before me) would not be experienced by future generations. There was a need for more leaders who looked like me, from communities like Detroit, influencing and guiding this work. 

Like most big ideas, SCP started out small. For the first year-and-a-half, the organization had a staff of one (myself) but our list of partners grew rapidly. Local and national groups quickly began seeing the uniqueness of our work and the value of partnering with a firm that could build strong plans, and cultivate relationships of the neighborhoods and people they were intending to engage and serve. 

Over the past four years,  I have been blessed, challenged, honored, and have learned more than I could have ever imagined when beginning this journey. Every morning, I wake up grateful to do this work and humbled to serve people and communities I care deeply about. In four years, Strategic Community Partners has directly engaged over 10,000 young people in programming that has allowed them to explore who they are, connect with mentors, and gain resources and connections for college, career, life, and their dreams. From one-day events to multi-year programs, we’ve helped partners envision, design, and execute efforts that supported thousands of young people becoming first-generation college students. 

Our work has also allowed us to help hundreds of community organizations and corporations to think through what equity looks like in their everyday work and how they can use their unique positions to support young people and communities in an inclusive, equitable, and sustainable way. 

This includes serving President Barack Obama’s efforts locally and nationally to pour into boys and young men of color. We’ve worked with every district across Michigan to ensure educators are informed around legislation and their opportunities and rights as educators. Our work has also included collaborating with the Department of Education and government offices across the country think about equity, organizational culture, and servant leadership. 

We have created a first of its kind teacher-centric organization, Teach 313, that aims to not only recruit passionate and amazing teachers to Detroit, but also to celebrate, uplift, and support current teachers. In its first year, the program recruited nearly 100 new teachers to Detroit, launched two cohorts of program fellows, and directly engaged nearly 1,000 early childhood and K-12  teachers in networking and professional development opportunities. Through the initiative’s strategic partnerships with local businesses, Teach 313 has also helped Detroit teachers save thousands of dollars on everyday items, houses, vehicles, and more.

Throughout SCP’s journey, it has been my personal priority to use the seat at the table that I have fought for as a Black woman leader to amplify voices that often go unheard and help ensure other underrepresented leaders have a seat too. 

The Strategic Community Partners team

The Strategic Community Partners team

While growing SCP’s impact has been an inspiring journey, it is the accomplishments of our partners that has truly makes this work worthwhile. Over the last four years, we have helped some of our partners secure their largest grants, scale their work, and take their organizations to the next level. We have also been intentional about who we partner. We are unapologetic and transparent that SCP will always seek to put dollars into locally-owned, Black-owned, people of color-owned, and woman-owned companies and organizations. I will never forget the day an organization we partner with told us that our contract with them allowed them to, for the first time, pay their team and contractors what they were actually deserved. By partnering with local organizations and vendors, we not only strengthen our organization, but also help put dollars back into the communities we serve and call home. 

With servant leadership at the core of who we are and how we lead, we have been able to work with communities across Detroit, Washington, D.C, St. Louis, and beyond. I’m humbled and awe-inspired when I think about the next four years. 

What’s ahead? 

SCP will continue to serve young people and communities we deeply care about. We will continue to work with local and national organizations by advising, designing, and managing initiatives that advance equity with, and for, communities. Furthermore, we will continue to serve as an example of how a Black women-led organization can make an important impact in the community it serves.  

I am also impressed and deeply grateful for our growing team who is working to scale SCP’s partnerships and impact. As a result, our next four years will allow us to do far more than we have ever done before. Every day our team affirms that those in communities can be the leaders, bring the solutions, and further the progress they seek.

Above all, the past four years have proven to me that SCP is not an anomaly. By bringing other organizations to the table and helping to create a space for people to get involved in issues they care about, we hope to inspire a new wave of community-focused leaders.

To every young person and community member that society discounts, I want you to know, I see you--we see you. To every community member and leader doing the work that you know in your heart and soul must be done, I salute you and we stand in solidarity. To every partner that has trusted us and invited us to the table, we thank you.