Friday, July 27, 2012

Detroit Love - Live Downtown Games + beyond

The one question I get asked most often, when I talk with family, friends, business associates and event native Detroiters isn't hard to guess: Why did you move to Detroit?

See, I'm a California kid, by way of...well...all over the place. My parents were immigrants from a place - Equatorial Guinea - that wasn't even its own country when I was born. I'm a guy who grew up in the northern  suburbs of San Francisco, spent several of his formative years in Switzerland, went to college in Washington, D.C. and who considers Barcelona a second home.

So, why Detroit?

It's pretty simple. Home is where the heart is and Detroit has the biggest heart of a city that I've experienced in America.

Now, don't get me wrong. Sometimes, that heart can lead you astray. And sometimes, depending on the circumstances, it can even be broken. But, through all of the heartache that can come with difficult times, the joy of success can make that same heart sing.

The Live Downtown Games, a germ of an idea that found its way into fruition about three months ago, is one such successful event that is making people's hearts sing at a few companies that have worked hard to help breathe some new energy into Detroit's Downtown Business District.

A year ago, five companies - Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Compuware, DTE Energy, Quicken Loans and Strategic Staffing Solutions - formed an alliance that committed $1 million per company over five years, to offer financial incentives to employees to buy, rent or refurbish homes in one of five designated areas in and around the Downtown Detroit Business District.

The program is called the Live Downtown Incentive program, administered by the Downtown Detroit Partnership. In a year, nearly 500 employees from these five companies have either moved downtown or are in the process of doing so the program.

This week marks the culmination of the hard work of a small group of worker bees representing these companies coming together and figuring out an engagement activity that might shine some positive light on the incentive program. Little did we know that it was going strike such a cord with the employees of these companies, that folks are already organizing and getting geared up for next summer!

So should you care?

Because this is happening in Detroit. Yes, the Detroit of infamy. The Detroit who's notorious reputation is so universal, that it surpasses the fear quotient that the Bronx used to conjure up. The Detroit of 8 Mile Road and all the rest of it.

But, you should also care that hundreds of smiles, new friendships were established and a great sense of community is starting to form amongst the participants representing these companies. And given that I'm always prone to supporting underdogs, I'm proud to say that I'm supporting Detroit on its tough road to better days.

I'm just glad that I was able to meet and work with my new-found partners in the grind Wanda, Stephanie, Maura, Marge, Jake, Jenn, Kristen, Karolina, Denise, Tom, Russell, Andy, Susan, Dave, Yvette, Eric, Trisha and many others that supported this week. You all represent the heart of the city of Detroit.

This city might be ours for the length of a summer internship or a lifetime of an octogenarian. Either way, its our city while we're here. And being a part of making it better, like I think Live Downtown Games has, is why I'm proud to call myself a Detroit.

(Check out to learn more)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Dear Dad...

October 6, 2011

Dear Dad,

I’m in Detroit now. You probably never dreamed I would end up here, huh :-) (Oh, this smiley face thing is a new thing on computers to show your smiling while typing).

So, your journey to the New World landed us in the great state of California, which probably should be our home, considering that the Distrito de California was the place that you left in Equatorial Guinea. But, your first born is here in the middle of America, doing fine, thanks to you.

Yesterday, Steve Jobs died. He was 56; the same age you were when you died. That irony didn’t escape me, you know. It really is very sad when people with such vision leave us well before anyone is ready.

I don’t think you met him, Jobs (at least you never told me you did). Either did I. But, I did get to know him through his product: The Apple 2 Macintosh computer at Marin Academy. I had a life changing experience at 14 that I didn’t even realize was happening.

Like you, Jobs was a person (from most all accounts) that believed in something greater than oneself. His faith was his guiding light. Were it not for his belief, his initial “failure” would have been the last we would have heard from him. But, because he believed, I’m sitting here writing you this letter (long overdue) on a machine that he helped make ubiquitous.

Your faith, Dad, is perhaps the most endearing and enduring quality that I observed of you as a son. For much of my experience with you in life, I chose to question you about your beliefs: political, religious, relationships, work-life.

As a teenager, I didn’t know that I was brain-damaged LOL (that means laughing out loud…I guess it supposed to replace punctuation like the exclamation point in the era of email, texting and cell phones - I’ll tell you about those things later). I mean, I guess you were trying to let me know that things would change and that I would eventually start figuring out that life wasn’t this cocoon of an existence, but a long journey of discovery.

I still remember very vividly when you came up to the school my sophomore year because I had been kicked off the team for poor grades. In retrospect, you could have just thrown in the towel, pulled me from school or even banned me from playing. But you didn’t. You talked with coach Ravani and worked out a study hall plan for me. I didn’t know it at the time, but you were being a supporting father. I thank you for that, Dad.

While, I’ve fallen short in many aspects of my life, I can say that all of my successes are due to you and what you poured into me throughout my life. Thanks for deciding to have me, raise and love me.

Anyway, I was reflecting on the news about Steve Jobs and it made me think about how you set a course for revolutionary change in our family (moving across the planet to start a life in a new land) and through many trials, you brought your vision to fruition: A successful brood of children. And despite the difficulty with mom and you, the fact that she has made her own life in America is a testament to your vision that it would, in the long run, be a good thing for a young woman of 24 to move to America and start a new life. I know she still keeps a lot of your keepsakes and memories of you. So, to my mind, your influence on her life remains overwhelmingly positive.

I’m not going to bore you with crazy details of my life or those of mom, Ben, Ivevu and Jose. I can save that for another letter and perhaps another conversation, when I see you in heaven. But I did want to thank YOU dad for being the visionary, the innovator, the grand planner of my existence as a man. You may not have founded Apple Computers, but you certainly are the co-founder (along with mom) of our lives.

I love you and miss you crazily.

Your son,

PS I'm typing this letter on a Mac. Pretty funny huh? :-)

Saturday, September 25, 2010


What is leadership?

Is it showing employees how to do a task and hovering over to see that they've completed it? Is it a coach yelling at his players to "suck it up" for the sake of the team, only to see one of his charges injure herself unnecessarily? Could it be someone listening intently to your issue and offering some advice?

I guess it could be all or part of all three. Or perhaps none of them.

What I learned today was that leadership is an evolving process of self-discovery, a desire to connect with people and the search for transformational change.

The Detroit Regional Chamber's Leadership Detroit program brings talented, motivated and successful professional together over the course of a year to explore the possibilities of change through leadership. The reputation of "The D" precedes itself in conversations, in media and in reality everyday.

Whether you are in Buenos Aires, Barcelona or Birmingham, people know of Detroit. You don't even have to speak English to know that there is a Detroit. Like New York (the city so nice they named it twice...), Detroit is worldwide.

The problem is many of us who claim a connection to Detroit aren't always comfortable about our image to the rest of the world. Like an insecure teenager who puts on make up to cover up what she believes to be blemishes, Detroit often puts on a mask designed to project an image that isn't exactly authentic.

It is my impression that the Detroit Regional Chamber recognizes that more than a makeover, Detroit needs to chart a new direction for itself. Whether or not the focus of that reorientation is centered around business, arts, politics, sports, religion, race, regionalism or all of the above is less important than making progress in the work towards change. And that is where the process of leadership can begin to stoke the embers of change.

Of course there is no real consensus on the definition of leadership. It's something that you know when  you see it. But it is kind of like building a bridge.

You've got to have people willing to work together, you've got to come up with a plan, you've got to work that plan and  you've got to be flexible enough to change course when you need to. I'm ready to put on my hard hat and see what happens.

I look forward to being a part of the journey. I will try and chronicle how the process unfolds in the microcosm, while trying to tie to the macro experience of living in "The D". We'll see how it goes.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Inauguration Pt. 2

January 21, 2009
Celebrating the history takes many forms. Some choose quiet reflection, while others yearn for the company of others to share their excitement.

We chose the latter and attended the Michigan Inaugural Ball at the National Museum of American History located in the Kenneth E. Behring Center. It was a fitting location given that the Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life exhibit was on display and the 16th President was such an influence on the 44th President.

Walking into the museum with my sister Ana, her friend Ruth and our aunt Pearline, a live cover band was blasting Michael Jackson songs from his Thriller album and folks were “getting their groove on.”

Dignitaries from around the state and across industries were in attendance: Governor Jennifer Granholm, Former General Motors Group Vice President Roy Roberts, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, NAACP Detroit Branch President Wendell Anthony and Detroit Mayor Ken Cockrel Jr. were just a few of the estimated several hundred people that attended the event.

We ended the night (relatively) early as our feet began to ache from walking earlier in the day and bags still had to be packed for the flight home the following morning.

8:45 a.m. Wednesday, January 21:
OK. I know traffic is one of the signs of a vibrant city, but this is ridiculous.

The 14th Street Bridge, which is the fastest way to get to Reagan National Airport from downtown DC, is still blocked off due to the inauguration festivities. My flight leaves at 9:20, it seems like every car in DC is headed in the same direction and we’re still a half hour away from the airport.

9:05 a.m.
Made it to the airport in what seems like record time. But, I still miss my flight. I’m on standby and no one can tell me when I might get onto another flight.

Waiting with me are dozens of other prospective flyers who either have their tickets or are trying to get onto the next available aircraft with a free seat. One of those “stranded passengers” is the living embodiment of the historic events of the last day: Judge Damon Keith.
Judge Keith is a Senior Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District. The distinguished jurist is a well known public figure in Michigan and a champion of Civil Rights for decades.

Sitting next to Judge Keith waiting for our planes, he recounted for me the significance of this particular presidential inauguration. It was a story that he said he shared earlier in the week with CNN.

“The significance of this trip for me is tremendous,” he said. “I was in Detroit when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the I Have a Dream speech after Marching down Woodward Avenue, before he delivered it (in Washington, DC) in 1963. When Nelson Mandela came to Detroit in 1990, Mayor Coleman Young asked me to introduce Mandela at Tiger Stadium. And now I’m here for this. It is just wonderful.”
After sharing some time with Judge Keith and the millions of others who came to Washington to celebrate the election of President Barack Obama and see the new First Family, sitting and waiting several hours for a plane doesn’t seem so difficult.

In fact, the last part of the trip seemed to sum up what the entire journey was about for me in the first place: No longer a dream deferred, but a dream realized.