Blog: Kate Baker

Ferndale's progeny became this hip city's prodigy. Meet Kate Baker, director of development at Wayne State University Press and Ferndale city councilwoman. Kate, who goes down in legend as the city's youngest-ever elected official, will be writing about community development and culture in Metro Detroit.

Kate Baker - Post 3: Opportunity

Metro Detroit has abundant opportunities for young people with good ideas to make a difference. Every day, my study and work at Wayne State and my service to enterprising Ferndale residents show me how to turn ideas into realities that are making our region better, more sustainable, and more prosperous.  Metro Detroit is a place that is so in need of new ideas and community leadership that age has not been a barrier for me and my contemporaries.  Indeed, youth, in combination with education, energy and enthusiasm, is often an asset.

Opportunities for community involvement available to young people in Detroit are unparalleled in other major cities.  During a recent visit to Washington D.C., I remembered how much I once enjoyed living there, working diligently for a cause I believed in, and seeing so many 20-somethings on Capitol Hill who were doing the same thing.  Now I understand why my work in Detroit and Ferndale is much more fulfilling. Rather than working 18 hour days to further the agenda of a political party or elected official, I am the elected official, working to make a direct impact on my community.

Finding opportunities in Detroit requires many residents to change their perceptions and expectations.  We are no longer in an economy or a region where jobs will come to us.  We are, however, in a region where entrenched barriers to access and power are breaking down because the systems they support are fundamentally shifting and changing.  A recent conversation about the Millennial Mayors Congress (see Sharon Carney's blog) reminded me that young people, rather than being excluded from political and regional decision-making, are now invited to become the decision-makers.  This window of opportunity will be entirely what we make of it, though.  Leveraging this time of economic and political change, at the local and state level, will ultimately be the most rewarding for those of us who choose to stay in Detroit and Michigan and engage in the process of reshaping government agendas and community priorities.   

Thinking more broadly about opportunity – prioritizing access and personal development as opposed to wealth creation – will require young people to seek out and engage in conversations about their vision for our region.  The Millennial Mayors Congress is only one route for engagement.  Young professionals can join networking groups like Fusion or Leadership Next.  They can reach out to and meet their elected officials.  They can learn how the political system works through participation on city boards and commissions and position themselves to make change from within.  

To fuel enthusiasm, they should seek out community groups that support causes they believe in, and donate their time and energy.  Speaking as one 20-something, I assure Detroit's young adults that that their actions and ideas will be noticed and heeded.  There is no better place than Detroit for seeking and finding opportunities that lead to personal and professional fulfillment, and create a better place for everyone to work and live.