Youth Summit 2-2
Donnell White, senior vice president at TCF Bank, chief dversity officer and director of strategic partnerships with L!FE Leaders, and Curtis Bates, Mario Lemons and Charvae Jackson of the Detroit Achievement Academy at a previous summit. (Courtesy of Amy Nederlander)

Over the course of two days, youth attend roundtable discussions, fireside chats and actively engage in breakout sessions to develop their interpersonal and professional skills.

Every year, up to 300 Detroit youth ages 14-24 gather to discuss the state of Detroit and what the future of the city might hold.

At the Detroit Youth Summit Conference, held by the youth leadership and career development program L!FE Leaders Inc., and various Detroit-based partners, young people meet and learn from experts, business professionals and community leaders about career opportunities in the city.

“The overall objective of our program is to empower youth to empower the future,” explains L!FE Leaders founder and president Amy Nederlander. “The conference updates youth on Detroit’s growth and its resulting opportunities while providing access to those opportunities.”

Over the course of two days, youth attend roundtable discussions, fireside chats and actively engage in breakout sessions to develop their interpersonal and professional skills. They even play an active role in planning the conference, hosting panel discussions with guest speakers and channeling the overall creative direction of the event.

“Confidence is a very important skill that youth come out with,” Nederlander says of the summit. “They learn professional etiquette, collaboration, public presentation and leadership skills.”

Planning for Future

Now, Detroit youth are also learning remote work skills. As Detroit Youth Summit Conference prepares for its third-annual event Aug. 3-4 — and second-annual virtual edition — all programming is taking place online to accommodate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s also one of the topics at the forefront of the summit conference, which aims to update Detroit youth on how the pandemic continues to impact the city’s workforce and job opportunities. There’s a focus on destigmatizing access to mental healthcare as well, with a roundtable discussion and fireside chat exclusively dedicated to raising awareness on workplace wellness.

“The conference is told through the lens of current events,” Nederlander says. The theme of this year’s event, for example, is “Detroit Defining the New Normal.” At the upcoming summit, participants will learn about the growth of the health and technology industries, among others, both of which have grown significantly in light of COVID-19 as many industries turn virtual.

This year’s programming will also focus on the city’s growth plans for 2021, equity in education, neighborhood redevelopment, citywide internet access, and more. Special guests will include Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti; the city of Detroit’s Director of Digital Inclusion Joshua Edmonds; and Chief CEO of Detroit Future City Anika Goss.

Amy Nederlander, co-founder and president, L!FE Leaders Inc. and Rico Razo, deputy director, Bridging Neighborhoods, City of Detroit, at the Mike Ilitch School of Business, Wayne State University in 2019. Courtesy of Amy Nederlander
Chance to Network

While the first day of the summit will highlight understanding Detroit’s current state of affairs, the second day leans into the future as youth participate in a job fair to learn about possible career paths they can go into.

“The objective is to really network,” Nederlander explains of the summit. “The future workforce can connect with opportunities, make plans, get internships and get appropriate access to jobs and mentorship.”

It’s an area Nederlander, 60, has always had a passion for. Now based in New York City, she grew up in Huntington Woods and Franklin. Since she was a teenager, she has been thinking about how to provide youth with career mentorship.

“I’m a real believer in the youth voice,” she explains, “and being able to navigate your own destiny.”

She says youth can pave the way to a successful career path through learning practical skills and understanding how the world evolves as it pertains to current affairs. “There are a lot of barriers to career entry for a lot of people,” Nederlander continues. “We’re helping with that through skill development, introductions and networking.”

Real-life Success

Nederlander and L!FE Leaders’ community partners have seen their efforts in helping Detroit youth pay off. Now, youth volunteers have created a dedicated youth summit council to take on and address issues related to the larger conference.

Two participants, Nederlander explains, decided to focus on improving financial literacy. The youth started a nonprofit called Discover SELF Impact to offer a series of workshops on financial independence. “As a result of the work they did, they were included in this year’s Skillman Foundation’s 20 Black Detroiters Making History,” Nederlander says.

It’s just one example of many, she explains, that highlight the importance of providing Detroit youth with the right skill-building programs and doors to career growth.

“We have several students moving into the real world with exciting opportunities,” Nederlander says. “Understanding what’s going on around you can help you understand the opportunity in front of you and how to make things happen for yourself.”

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