Rieanna Stewart and her friend, Christina Ignasiak, canvassing for Rashida Tlaib in their Detroit district. Fall 2020.

Rieanna Stewart is a 2020-2021 Fellow. She is originally from Woodhaven, Michigan but has called Detroit home for many years. She is most proud of being a “first-generation college graduate running a non-profit that introduces and educates participants on the people, places and projects which make up Detroit.”

Tell us about your host company and your role in the organization.

My host company during the fellowship is the Detroit Experience Factory (DXF). DXF was founded in 2006 on the idea that all you needed in Detroit was a friend to show you what you didn’t know you were looking for. Originally called Inside Detroit, the organization worked as a scrappy grassroots operation that opened the city’s first welcome center in the space that is now the Nike store on Woodward Avenue. In 2012, Inside Detroit became part of D:hive, a 3-year collaborative project focused on attraction and retention of talent that was powered by the Downtown Detroit Partnership. Detroit Experience Factory the brand was designed in 2014 by Detroit designer, Andy Kopietz and today, DXF is a 501(c)(3)nonprofit organization, with an office in the New Center neighborhood. Through the ups, downs, partnerships and brand makeovers of the last 15 years, DXF remains a leading resource for both visitors and locals to discover, experience and learn about the city of Detroit.

A picture Rieanna took near her home in the North End neighborhood labeled, “Hood Closed to Gentrifiers.” The sign marked the beginning of an anti-gentrification movement led by Bryce Detroit, and is a cemented value that carries through in Rieanna’s work and efforts for Detroiters.

As DXF’s Operations Director, I am responsible for overseeing the non-profit organizational structure and processes, managing organization finances and assisting the Executive Director with the strategic planning and execution of that plan to drive continued success for our Detroit community as a leading non-profit organization focused on connecting folks to Detroit’s people, places and projects.

Tell us about the challenge project you’re currently working on; what are you learning from the experience?

Our current challenge project is in partnership with Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation (GRDC). My team is focused on small business attraction for the GRDC. We’ve been working hard to support GRDC with recommendations and solutions that will better attract new small businesses to the Grandmont Rosedale neighborhood. During the project we have focused on how we can create a business case snapshot for the neighborhood that highlights all the compelling reasons that Grandmont Rosedale is a community where businesses can flourish. I have learned from this experience that the biggest and most important perk of small business ownership in Detroit is having a deeply rooted community and development corporation that will be an anchoring support. It’s this level of understanding and active community voice that continues to set Detroit apart from other major urban cities in my opinion.

How do you hope to impact the community as a Fellow?

As a Fellow, I really want to take the best practices from our Design Thinking projects to impact more organizations around Detroit. As a dedicated member of the Detroit community, I want this intentional experience as a Challenge Detroit Fellow to allow me to push the boundaries on showing up in the community. I believe this experience will lend well to the future version of myself that wants to be a part of helping to solve the challenges our community faces at a legislative level, community level, and policy level.

What are you most looking forward to as a Fellow this year?

A picture Rieanna took in a protest in Downtown Detroit for Black Lives Matter, led by organizing efforts of Detroit Will Breathe during the Summer of 2020. This protest and values of the Black Lives Matter movement is a crucial point of reference to all the work and voice she brings to the Challenge projects and beyond.

I am most looking forward to our project for Challenge #5 this year. It’s exciting that we will be given the opportunity to really shape the framework with a non-profit partner of our choice advancing their mission. We will also be given the chance to really put all the learning we have done through practice and production with our previous challenge partners to the test.

How do you believe your fellowship will shape your career moving forward?

I believe the fellowship has strengthened the way I will show up in my career and life, as my authentic self. As a deeply empathic person, I feel that Challenge Detroit has only sharpened my ability to empathize, and allow that empathy to shape the work I produce and contribute to the community. The everyday Detroiters are my constant inspiration, and Challenge has been a refreshing reminder of that. I fell in love with this city because of the friendly faces of locals, the magic of conversations with small business owners and residents, and the grit of everyone working for the greater good here. There’s magic in the Detroit sidewalks, and that will always inspire me.

If someone is reading this and considering applying to be a Fellow, why would you encourage them to apply?

If you want to understand the true struggles, successes, and stories that impact real Detroiters, and urban cities throughout our country; this is a great opportunity to deepen that understanding and be immersed in a community filled with like-minded people. The connections you will make are unmatched, and will push you to better the community in which you are placed moving forward.