DTE Energy headquarters is located in Downtown Detroit at the Energy Plaza.

Triniti Watson is a 2020-2021 Fellow. While at Michigan State, she submitted a grant proposal to MSU’s Creating Inclusive Excellence Grants for a project initiative titled “Collaboration as Practice: The MSU Black Book for Community Mobilization.” Triniti is currently working on creating an updated version that is expected to be available in the Fall.

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

My host company is DTE Energy where I work on their corporate volunteerism team in the Public Affairs department. On this team, I build relationships with diverse community partners to coordinate volunteer opportunities for employees. I also work closely with our company’s Energy Resource Groups to promote cultural awareness and service in various business units across the enterprise. A final role I have is co-leading our Public Affairs DEI Integration team where we are building metrics to better assess how diversity, equity, and inclusion shows up in our external workstreams. Through my roles, I promote intentional community engagement to assure DTE is implementing its DEI priorities.

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

Our third challenge project is with the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation (GRDC) where my team’s design question asks “how might we better attract shoppers and visitors to the Grandmont Rosedale commercial corridor?” What I love most about this project is being able to learn about the neighborhoods the GRDC serves, and how community plays an integral role in sustaining these historic districts. Because my team’s project is centered in the commercial corridor on Grand River, I’ve enjoyed interviewing business owners and exploring their businesses. Some of my favorite spots are Detroit Vegan Soul, the Norwest Gallery of Art, and Elias Donuts.

My team pictured with artist and owner of the Norwest Gallery of Art, Asia Hamilton (far left)!

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

As someone who praises the communities that have poured into how I understand myself and the work that matters to me, I hope to be a force that uplifts community wisdom and trust in various civic projects in Detroit. There are many inequities that leave non-white Detroiters out of civic or economic development plans even though they’ve lived in Detroit for most of their lives. Genuine community engagement is imperative to assure these voices are heard. The weight of my impact is tied to how I collaborate and acknowledge the voices of all citizens.

Since becoming a Fellow, what is something new that you have learned ?

The design thinking process in our challenge projects has been a very rewarding experience for me. Outside of designing the structure and content for dialogue groups when I was in college, I’ve never engaged with design thinking the way we do in the fellowship. I consider myself a creative person through my writing skills and my ability to adapt, and I was surprised at how hard it was for me to ideate for the first time. I don’t think I’ve ever been explicitly asked to imagine ideas that haven’t materialized yet in a professional setting, so going through each step in the process has taught me how to build out ideas through collaboration. Gradually, I’m becoming more comfortable with each step in the process, and I’m observing that the more I immerse myself in this practice, the more dedicated I am towards innovating my curiosities.

Different fellow teams during our stakeholder interviews for challenge #3 with the owner of Cutz Lounge, Dante Williams (far upper left corner)

Please share the most memorable moment you have experienced so far as a Fellow. Why was it memorable and how has it impacted you?

One of my most memorable moments from this year was during our first challenge project with Focus:HOPE’s Generation of Promise (GoP) program. When hearing from alumni of GoP, Renaissance high school student Tarrin Dewberry really inspired me as she spoke of the importance of storytelling and transcending fear through courage. Hearing about what motivates her to be proactive in her community reminded me that the youth of Detroit have so much wisdom to offer; I still sit with all the lessons she taught me about how to be a leader in the short amount of time we had during interviews.

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

Challenge Detroit is a fellowship that provides so much opportunity for growth. It not only offers a well-organized introduction to Detroit industries and organizations, but reveals how someone can make their own impact by trusting their skills and learning how to problem solve with other leaders. This experience has been the perfect next step for me since graduating from Michigan State University, and I think anyone that has the chance to be a part of this fellowship will walk away more confident in their abilities to implement change.