Fisher Foundation Executive Director Doug Bitonti Stewart, Black Leaders Detroit CEO Dwan Dandridge and Hebrew Free Loan Detroit Executive Director David Contorer from a BLD/HFL/Fisher Foundation meet-up in 2020. 
Fisher Foundation Executive Director Doug Bitonti Stewart, Black Leaders Detroit CEO Dwan Dandridge and Hebrew Free Loan Detroit Executive Director David Contorer from a BLD/HFL/Fisher Foundation meet-up in 2020. 

HFL helps new nonprofit get off the ground.

In a showing of cross-community collaboration, Hebrew Free Loan (HFL) is helping Black Leaders Detroit (BLD) create a no-interest loan program to help Detroit’s Black community in ways it’s helped Detroit’s Jewish community for more than 100 years.

David Contorer, executive director of HFL, and Dwan Dandridge, CEO of BLD, met each other in late 2019 at Durfee Innovation Society, a Detroit opportunity hub.

Their similar mission to provide capital to people who couldn’t get it, whether they’re Jewish or Black, is what connected them, Contorer said.

The two exchanged contact info and have been in touch regularly ever since.

“I loved it right away,” Contorer said of the partnership idea. “We are in-mission focused solely on Jewish recipients of our loans, but it’s not a model I want to keep in a petri dish. I’m always looking to share things that work with other communities.”

BLD, a charitable organization launched in 2019, seeks to provide no-interest loans to Black entrepreneurs in Detroit.

“Realizing HFL has been providing no-interest loans in the Jewish community for 125 years, it only made sense for us to look at a blueprint that’s been successful,” Dandridge said. “They’ve been amazing as far as being welcoming to us and being an open book, answering any questions.”

BLD may tweak their loan program to fit the community they serve, but HFL gives them a pattern to follow.

“We don’t have to recreate the wheel. There’s a wheel that already exists,” Dandridge said.

Noticing the burgeoning partnership, the Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation gave a grant to support the BLD and HFL partnership.

Doug Bitonti Stewart, executive director of the foundation and a mutual friend of Contorer and Dandridge, was key in the process.

Contorer recalled, “As I met with Dwan, Doug found out about it and said, ‘I’m so glad you guys have connected. You two should be working together, and we’re a Foundation that’s going to be first in the water to support your efforts.’”

Contorer added, “The Fisher Foundation made a significant grant and will continue to make significant grants to BLD to support [Dwan’s] capacity and encourage the ongoing relationship between Dwan and me and the sharing of knowledge in the partnership. [Dandridge] is like we were in 1895. He’s just getting his sea legs and putting things together.”

Contorer hopes to eventually see serious numbers of Black business owners going to BLD for interest-free loans to start up and expand their businesses.

Dandridge hopes this partnership is a sign of more collaboration between the Jewish and Black communities.

“I would love to see our communities step out of the norm and find other ways to partner,” Dandridge said. “I think a lot of our problems could be solved by expanding our networks.”