A week in the life of a Civic Tech Evangelist Part 2: Points of Light Civic Accelerator

| Ivoire Morrell, MSFT Chicago Civic Tech Fellow

This is part of a series by Ivoire Morrell, a Microsoft Chicago Civic Tech Fellow and all-around civic tech enthusiast. See part one of this series here.

Points of Light

The next stop after the #micities conference was on Thursday, October 13, where I attended the Points of Light Civic Accelerator First Look event in Detroit. The Points of Light Civic Accelerator is a program that truly embodies civic engagement. With the increasing number of unemployed young adults in the United States who lack the workforce-ready skills to land employment in growing industries, and with Detroit having one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the nation, the proactive problem solvers at Points of Light proposed the question: How might we improve educational outcomes and ensure workforce success for youth in Detroit and the Great Lakes region? The solution to this dilemma: The Civic Accelerator.

Civic Accelerator (CivicX) is a groundbreaking program that serves as an advocate toward furthering the advancement of emerging for-profit/nonprofit civic ventures within the Midwest and beyond that focus on education and workforce development. Placing these different ventures into a 10-week entrepreneurial boot camp/investment fund, Civic Accelerator focuses on building expedited innovation of educational outcomes and youth workforce development in areas including: Alternative learning models, experiential training, developing 21st century job ready skills, carving workforce pathways, and creating greater access to internal liberators (social services, professional mentoring, career services, and healthy living).


Before heading to CivicX First Look, I made a stop at Data Driven Detroit for a meeting with my friend Dustin O’Hara, who is a doctoral candidate in Information Studies at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). We met to talk about CUTGroup Detroit, which is one of the projects Dustin is researching for his dissertation focused on Smart cities and civic engagement. During our conversation, Dustin mentioned an awe-inspiring community revitalization project he is researching in the Highland Park called Avalon Village. Knowing of my passion for rebuilding communities through reading my blog series, Community Takes Commitment, Dustin invited me to take a tour of Avalon Village and to meet the individuals behind this conception.

CivicX First Look

Moments after leaving D3, Dustin and I arrived at Avalon Village. The atmosphere of the area was simply astounding. Construction workers were wrapping up one of the parks many imaginative institutions called the homework house. The homework house will serve as an after school destination of creation allowing students to receive help with homework through tutoring programs, create music at the in house recording studio, learn about STEM, and so much more. Avalon Village will also host other environment enhancers including a restaurant called the Blue Moon Café, a store called the Goddess Marketplace where female entrepreneurs can sell their products, a greenhouse to café food system, alternative living/business spaces made out of shipping containers, urban gardens, basketball courts, and other enlightening establishments.

The mastermind behind this virtuous vessel of communal cohesion, Shamayim Harris, became inspired to initialize Avalon Village after a tragic hit and run incident claimed the life of her 2-year son, Jakobi Ra (rest peacefully young Jakobi). In his honor, she launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for Avalon Village. Her Kickstarter campaign was a huge success raising $243,690 and gaining donations from others who strive to see positive change in impoverished Detroit communities. The first installation at Avalon Village was Jakobi RA Park which serves as a gathering place for celebrations and other community events.

I did not get a chance to meet Shamayim during my visit at Avalon Village, but I would just like to say your story of tragedy to triumph is compelling and truly admirable. Through your resilience during affliction, you have pioneered a grassroots movement that is not only reshaping the infrastructure of Highland Park, but transforming the minds and hearts of the citizens that dwell in the community, giving them hope for a brighter tomorrow. I pray that your movement scintillates the cerebral sensors of citizens living in impoverished communities throughout the globe, inspiring them to initialize similar strategies to revolutionize their neighborhoods.

After leaving Avalon Village, I headed to MASH Detroit, a dynamic community co-op that hosts collaboration efforts between innovators and creators across Detroit, which was the destination for CivicX First Look. After greeting the magnificent Points of Light team which includes Ayesha Khanna, Mark Crosswell, Megan Christenson, and Jasmine Cato, I took my seat and awaited the start of the evening’s main event.

The format for CivicX operated like a friendly shark-tank style even where the newest class of Civic Accelerator participants were given three minutes to pitch to the audience what their respective ventures are doing to stimulate educational and workforce development in the city of Detroit. After each ventures pitch, the audience was given two minutes to ask questions and provide intuitive insight on the content of each pitch, highlighting what was effective, what was ineffective, and what could be improved or modified to increase the vitality of the presentation. The ventures were divided and presented in three different categories: 21st Century Skills, College Prep & Completion, and Workforce Success.

Points of Light

21st Century Skills

Amongst the different ventures that presented for 21st century skills were Atlantic ImpactDetroit Food AcademyFlying ClassroomHenry Ford Learning Institute, and WeThrive. Each venture offered a refreshing perspective on how to impart 21st Century Skills to the youth of Detroit. Atlantic Impact, a nonprofit organization from Detroit, MI, for example transmits educational growth to Detroit students attending highly impoverished schools by using local and global travel to traverse the terrains in which students live, exposing them to different environments, which sequentially triggers a new found sense of hope for the student’s future. WeThrive, a nonprofit entrepreneurial mentorship program from Santa Monica, California, collaborates with college students from different universities, pairing these students with middle school students from under-resourced communities, allowing the middle school students to learn life/educational skills from individuals who are activity pursuing academic excellence.

College Prep & Completion 

ALEX (Anyone’s Learning Experience)FletchGenFKD, and Overgrad were the four ventures that pitched their solutions for College Prep & Completion in Detroit. While all of the ventures were great, the venture that really caught my interest was Fletch. Fletch is a For-profit organization out of Chicago, Illinois, that helps colleges increase utilization of student support services including tutoring, advising, and financial aid. Using a mobile application, Fletch allows students to input their college courses and form study groups with other students on campus. Students are able to upload course material, share notes, and receive virtual assistance from other students in their study group. The app also allows students to receive updates on different university support services like financial aid, tutoring, advising, and career services through push notifications. The overall goal of this initiative is to help all college students achieve academic success through using the plethora of resources implanted on college campuses, which will result in higher college retention rates.

Workforce Success

BLOCDetroit Training CenterGrow Detroit’s Young TalentThe Impact LabJOURNI, and Skill Scout were the ventures that pitched their solutions for Workforce Success in Detroit. While each venture presented unique and insightful approaches to enhance workforce success in Detroit, JOURNI and Skill Scout thoroughly impressed me. JOURNI, a non-profit organization established in the city of Detroit, strives to empower individuals from undeserved, urban communities by providing them with the tech education needed to compete and thrive in the local ecosystem. Through providing youth centered programming courses, beneficial job opportunities, social economical resources, and other services, JOURNI is depositing vital technological skills to those who are less fortunate. Learning these skills will allow individuals to break through the barriers that barricade their brilliance, uplift their communities through technological progression, and earn better employment opportunities.

Skill Scout, a For-Profit company located in Chicago, Illinois, was simply sensational. This organization transforms how companies and candidates connect with each other through using video job posts and engaging work sample applications. Instead of reading through a long job description, candidates can view the job they desire through simply watching an engaging video showing what the position entails using this platform. Skill Scout takes an inventive, future focused approach to linking job candidates with job opportunities in a way that will rewrite the future of job searching.

Points of Light

October 13th was one of the most inspirational days I have had as a civic tech evangelist. From visualizing the remarkable community transformation at Avalon Village to learning about the invigorating educational and workforce development ventures at CivicX, I feel extremely encouraged about the future of Detroit. Not only do I feel encouraged, but I feel empowered to work more diligently toward making a substantial impact in Detroit. One narrative that is shared between Avalon Village and CivicX is the passion for positive progression. The individuals at both of these destinations have heroic hearts and astounding ambition. Their movements are not driven off self-gratification or personal personification but off the liberation of other individuals who are in less fortunate situations. I have nothing but deep gratitude for what each entity is doing to help others and I wish them all overflowing success.

Stay tuned for the third part of my blog series where I document my experience at the Sunlight Foundations Transparency Camp in Cleveland Ohio.

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