Resiliency Hubs, Waging a War on Trash, and Increasing African American Home Ownership

In 2022, Monique Baker McCormick was re-elected for her third term as Wayne County Commissioner of District 6. She serves Redford Township and Northwest Detroit in the community where she grew up. SBN Detroit spoke to McCormick about the sustainability initiatives she’s been involved in and how they impact residents and businesses in her community. Q: How does sustainability integrate with your position and the work you do as a Wayne County Commissioner? A: I think elected officials must support our communities and in doing so we need to protect the environment and quality of life for today and for future generations. Q: You are involved in so many committees and initiatives, can you give a couple of examples of how sustainability comes into play? A: We recently received a $1.1 million grant to create Wayne County resiliency hubs to reduce our carbon footprint in Wayne County. When I became the chair of Health and Human Services, I became involved with the toxic waste coming from Ohio to Wayne County following a train derailment. This is an environmental issue, a human rights issue, and a civil rights issue, and impacts the quality of life for all of us. As a commissioner, I don’t dig into how cities manage their environmental programs, but I can help on a county level to get funds and to help with programming necessary for the communities. Within the Economic Development Committee, we do have more say in how the operation of sustainability of Wayne County unfolds and how the resiliency hubs work as well. Q: How does this work impact businesses in your district? A: I think the work we do to reduce our carbon footprint and improve the quality of life in Wayne County impacts all of our citizens and businesses and will only help them grow and flourish. I think it helps to drive new businesses to the county as well. Q: You created the Wayne County Commission Youth Council (WCCYC). What is the impetus behind this? A: I had a long journey to becoming a commissioner. I started as a young Democrat and worked for the Democratic party and began to see first-hand how our democracy works and also how it does not. I want the next generation of leaders to understand that if you don’t fight for something,  have a voice, or don’t have a seat at the table then don’t expect that someone is going to fight for you. If you want to see change in your community change starts from the bottom up, and that means all of us getting involved in the process. The Wayne County Commission Youth Council helps young people understand this and empowers them to get involved in the process. The goal is to take youth from varied socioeconomic backgrounds and multicultural neighborhoods and help them become socially responsible community members. They pick their topics. We have worked on gun reform, mental health in schools, economic oppression, and more. They do voter registration and outreach, community service, and other issues. We travel to Lansing to meet legislators to make their voices heard regarding what they want to see change in Wayne County. Q: Do you think the youth that are involved now will have an impact on Southeast Michigan businesses as they join the workforce? A: One girl comes to mind – a tenth grader who was an introvert who did not want to speak in meetings at first. She didn’t know she had a voice. She evolved and eventually became the Youth Council President, speaking at all of the meetings and doing interviews, etc. Now she knows she can use her voice for change and for good. Another former member is now the president of his college council on campus. The program also has an internship component. One of our members worked for the mayor’s office in Northville. They go on to do the work that we start. Q: You have led efforts to mitigate foreclosures and increase African-American homeownership. How does this tie to sustainability regarding developing communities and the economy? A: The sustainability of Black and Brown communities starts with the American dream of home ownership. With home ownership you build equity. You buy a home and the value increases over time and once that increases you have this equity. But we’ve seen generations of wealth that have started with home ownership to then be wiped out by freeways. This causes generational economic oppression. It’s difficult to sustain a quality of life when you are always starting behind. Since 2008, African American home ownership is back down to the levels it was in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s all over the country. Detroit has more renters now whereas years ago there were more homeowners. We have to be intentional about how we address this. There are still redlining issues. There is still a lack of ability to get loans. There are a lot of issues around trying to get back to where were. Q: What is the war on trash that you initiated? A: This is an anti-littering campaign. It’s about advocacy that pushes the government and the community to do the right things around trash and littering. When we started the campaign, one of the first issues to address was to ensure our community had trash cans. I worked with the city of Detroit and the Downtown Detroit Partnership to purchase 50 trash cans and enlisted community volunteers to put the cans at city entry points, bus stops, etc. We partnered with elementary schools to try to embed early on that if you live in a community, you should be proud of that community and help to keep it clean. Our messages of “Love Where You Live” and “Don’t Stop and Drop” prompted kids to create art projects around clean communities, maintained trash around their schools, and more. It’s pushing to keep communities clean and green because there is more trash, there is more crime. Q: How do you think

Tracy Reese Returns to Detroit to Train Local Craftsmen and Produce For a Global Sustainable Footprint


SBN Detroit spoke with Tracy Reese, an American fashion designer who has been featured in fashion publications that include Vogue, Elle, Glamour, InStyle, and O, The Oprah Magazine; and whose creations have been worn by Michelle Obama, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Taylor Swift. In 2018, after 30 years in the industry, Reese moved back to her hometown of Detroit and in 2019 launched Hope for Flowers by Tracy Reese. The collection is designed and produced following three guiding principles of sustainability: the health of people, the planet, and equity in profit. Reese serves on the board of directors of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), where she has been a member since 1990. Reese also serves on the board of trustees of Nest Artisan Guild and the advisory council of the College for Creative Studies Fashion Accessories Design Program. She is also part of Turnaround Arts, a Kennedy Center program that transforms schools through the strategic use of arts. She recently served as board president of ISAIC, the Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center. She is working to build an artisan studio in Detroit creating economic opportunities for women in underserved communities.   Q: Please share how Hope for Flowers and the sustainability aspect came about.A: In 2017, I had three labels and had been working in the industry for more than 30 years with my own brand, functioning as a typical manufacturing wholesaler. All of my production was overseas, and I sourced fabrics from all over the world. I started learning more about sustainability, and around that time, the CFDA + Lexus Fashion* Initiative that focuses on sustainability launched. I missed the deadline to apply in 2017 and was determined to apply the following year, so I did, and I was selected. It was an eye-opener. It was nine months of learning about everything from textiles to carbon footprint to human rights issues within the supply chain to waste in pattern making and more. At the end of the program, we were required to present a blueprint to be judged, and then to follow through with the blueprint. During this time, I started feeling a pull back toward Detroit and bought a house. I was trying to determine how I could be back in the city more. As I created this blueprint, I realized that Detroit was the perfect place to launch a brand. I started changing my perspective on how I was working. Running parallel to this was an impending departure of ways with my partners. There were things we didn’t see eye to eye on that were nonnegotiables for me. They wanted to go for volume, and I wanted to do something smaller and more meaningful and work on giving back to the community. So, I took the blueprint and headed to Detroit. Part of my blueprint included localized production, so training Detroiters to be part of this industry in a meaningful way was a natural next step. I set up a business model with a social and sustainability-focused mission. I worked with Shayla Johnson from Scarlet Crane Creations and interns from Cass Tech, my alma mater. We manufactured in Flint. This set the groundwork for Hope for Flowers. Q: Do you have a set of short-term and longer-term goals you are working toward as you grow Hope for Flowers? A: My short-term goal was and is to address the low-hanging fruit – textiles. Every product we work with falls into the mild zone. We are using bast fibers like linen – a crop that doesn’t require lots of water and doesn’t deplete the earth of nutrients. We also use organic cotton and responsibly forested wood byproduct fibers like Tencel and are experimenting with recycled wool and other fabrics. The idea is to create garments that stand the test of time yet biodegrade over the long haul. We look at biodegradable materials for buttons like natural shells or wood and try to use natural things found on the planet versus man-made We also try to design clothes that are flexible, meaning two different sizes can wear the same garment. This reduces overproduction My long-term goal is to produce in Detroit. To that end, we are training and working with local craftspeople and sewers to develop them to a stage of mastery that’s competitive with what we can import. We are launching an apprenticeship program, and our goal is to start running small-batch production in-house. Q: What impact do you think Hope for Flowers and the vendors and partners you work with are having?  A: Each one of us is proving it’s possible, and I think that makes an impression on anyone considering taking steps toward sustainability. When those in doubt see a successful business model that’s working and financially viable, that’s impactful. The more people who choose to work this way, the easier and less expensive it becomes, and we can speak collectively. We need everybody to get on board, so it’s about setting aside the competitive mindset and working as a unified industry. Q: What drives your passion when it comes to the brand and its deep commitment to sustainability? A: I don’t see that it’s a choice really – it’s a necessity. We need to work in a way that’s less harmful to the planet and people. It’s also about holding ourselves to a higher standard, accepting the challenge and being energized by it. The idea of trying to solve this is exciting and I want to be up for the challenge, continue to learn, and continue to grow. Q: From your perspective – what is the role of businesses in Detroit in terms of sustainability? A: Each business has its own role to play. Getting started doesn’t have to be complicated. There are simple internal things that – when built into the company philosophy – begin to embed new habits and practices in the employees. We started composting a few months ago, and we are all working on developing new habits. Understanding