The marketing campaign #MoveToDetroit may be enticing a new brand of entrepreneurs and artists to join Detroit’s revitalization, but it’s the homegrown talent that is inspiring a promising future.
Take Stepha’N Quicksey, an Osborn graduate finishing his sophomore year at Grand Valley State University. The thoughtful 20-year-old is pursuing a degree in public and nonprofit administration, and will be interning this summer at United Way for Southeastern Michigan. As a first-generation college student, Stepha’N’s No. 1 goal is to complete his college degree; his second: to move back to his hometown.
“I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for the city of Detroit,” Stepha’N said. “The things I went through — I wouldn’t change that for the world.”
Stephan’N’s story is one of fortitude that was captured in the short documentary, “Much Love.”
Before entering Osborn High School, Stepha’N struggled academically with a 0.3 grade point average. Worse yet, he hadn’t found his purpose. Six of his siblings have dropped out of school, he said, so college was never a discussion in his household.
“I was at a point in my life where I didn’t know myself, and I didn’t understand my abilities,” Stepha’N said. “But there were people in my life that helped me understand my potential.”
One of his teachers mentored him and also invited him to attend church each week. It was this relationship that helped Stepha’N realize the person he wanted to become.
In time, he arose as a student leader within Osborn, one of the schools in United Way’s High School Turnaround Initiative. The Turnaround Initiative was created in part to improve graduation rates in some of the city’s historically low-performing schools. Stepha’N graduated as the Osborn salutatorian in 2013.
With college came both opportunities and challenges as Stepha’N navigated his new life.
Shortly after arriving to campus, Stepha’N and his fellow Osborn classmates received notice that there were problems with their financial aid packages.
“I can’t call up my parents or siblings and ask, ‘What did you do when you ran into this obstacle at school?’” he said. “I’m still trying to figure it out.”
He reached out to his former high school principal and United Way contacts who were able to help the students complete the necessary paperwork.
In addition, he’s formed his own cohort with his fellow Osborn graduates: “We helped each other out, and I am really thankful for that support system.”
The learning curve aside, Stepha’N is optimistic — and that optimism is rubbing off on his own siblings.
“When I come home, I’m not a college student… I’m just a brother, I’m an uncle and a son.
I let my family know all the time, we are one and the same. I’m not any better than anyone in this house,” he said, adding that his siblings have also told him they want to go back to school after seeing his success.
His time away from Detroit has helped Stepha’N appreciate his parents even more.
“To raise nine children and not have all the resources to do that all the time — that, to me, is the ultimate inspiration,” he said.
Stepha’N hopes that someday he can continue the cycle of giving back to others.
Inspired by the High School Turnaround Initiative’s work with students like Stepha’N, the GM Foundation helped us expand this work through a generous $27.1 million gift in 2010 to create a second network of schools called the GM Network of Excellence. This year will mark the network’s first graduating class.
Stepha’N will be a featured speaker at an upcoming event to highlight this work and talk to high school students about his own journey.
“I want to continue contributing to change here, to work and start a family and send my kids to schools in Detroit.”