It’s been said that friends make for poor business partners. The reasons vary from friendship not translating into business compatibility, business goals differ or personal feelings can override good business sense. While this may be the case for some, it appears to be the complete opposite for Brianna Alexander and Danielle Hughes, the co-founders and CEOs of ‘Detroit Speaks’. When considering how far they’ve come and all they’ve accomplished working together, Alexander notes, “Danni and I both have different strengths and weakness and we balance each other out. Danni knows everything about media and I am the programming mastermind… A lot of people have to outsource but we’ve learned to leverage one another’s strengths and weaknesses.” Hughes also points out that in their case they were good when they were just friends, but now that they are working together they are great and it has been a blessing! This is a refreshing change of pace.
Detroit Speaks, a non-profit that acknowledges the accomplishments of young Detroit natives and provides youth with the resources to excel in their personal endeavors among other pursuits, was a random idea that was birthed while Alexander and Hughes were in college in Atlanta. Hughes recalls, “It was all Brianna’s idea. Every Saturday we were going to some program in the community, but not doing anything for the city that raised us [Detroit]. So we said we’ll do a one day conference. As we started coming up with the program we realized how serious it was and saw that this was bigger than a one day conference. It’s been history ever since!” While they did not end up having the conference, they went back to the drawing board and created a sustainable and flourishing organization.
Over the past three years Alexander and Hughes have remained passionate about ensuring that kids know that they can do anything and that where they come from has nothing to do with who they can become. Seeing how grateful and receptive students are to receive resources and then watching them apply that information has been a great source of motivation for them. Hughes remembers a time when Detroit Speaks was just a side hustle. She had just graduated from Georgia State was fired from a job, moved to Atlanta eventually found in a job as an anchor in Augusta, GA and ended up being fired from that job a year later. “I applied for 80 jobs in Georgia and did not get one. I moved back to Detroit and told my mom “Mom, I’m only going to be here for a couple of weeks. I know I’m going to hear back from one of these jobs.” Hughes did not hear anything. It was then that things got started and Hughes believes she finally found something that gave her purpose. For Alexander, this work is important to her because she believes it’s a means to get young people involved, way before they get into trouble or before they need community service hours to graduate. “They get involved, then it’s in their blood and they’re hooked on giving back!”
Managing Detroit Speaks has not been without its challenges. Detroit Speaks is not a traditional business with a product, which makes it difficult to garner respect in certain entrepreneurial spheres. Additionally, Alexander and Hughes have found it difficult to get people to volunteer and stay dedicated. While they have plenty of supporters who share posts on social media, which they greatly appreciate, they want people to go the extra step. “If you can’t sacrifice 3 hours for your community what are you doing living there? We would like to see more hands-on deck not just for Detroit Speaks but for all organizations across the board, looking for volunteers. If you sign up for something, show up, don’t just talk about it, but be about it!”
When thinking of other entrepreneurs and words of advice for them, they stress the importance of branding, confidence and consistency. They believe it’s important to know exactly what you’re doing and what you’re trying to sell. Don’t be so excited at the idea of doing something big that you don’t know how to or can’t concisely share with others what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. They also stress the importance of being comfortable in your vision. Know that people will try to deter from anything- they’ll try to deter you from going to a certain gas station let alone a business venture, but be confident in your vision because not everyone will understand or believe in it or be comfortable with it. Lastly, don’t focus only on the glitz and glamour you see associated with other entrepreneurs. They got there because of hard work and consistency. So be consistent, if you’re after the fame and accolades it will come eventually.
One thing that is evident from our brief conversation with these energetic and determined women is that they are always on the go and thinking of what’s next. Detroit Speaks has several unique and innovative upcoming events. They have a Fellowship Gala, where they plan on highlighting the work young people are doing and providing them with funds for school or their entrepreneurial endeavors. Additionally, they are organizing a week-long day camp mentorship program, a summer version of our Emerging Leaders program. They’re doing it all!
Detroit Speaks is a story of selflessness, giving back and understanding the importance of investing in community. While it’s mind-blowing to Alexander and Hughes to think that all this started from a simple conversation, we would expect nothing less given their determination and passion for their community and helping others. Although they are motivated by those they serve, we are certain they are also a source of inspiration to everyone they meet and many others who will come to know of, work with and contribute to Detroit Speaks!
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