In the late 90s, Southwest Detroit native Angela Reyes was fed up with the gang violence that was wreaking havoc in her community.
“I tell people I was tired of burying kids,” Reyes says. “I used to go to funerals all the time.”
This violence motivated Reyes to create the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation (DHDC) in 1997. Founded to keep children and young adults out of gang activity, the nonprofit organization provides mentoring, educational programs, job training, hot meals, family services and scholarships to some of the city’s most at-risk children and families. The effort went so well that Reyes was recently invited to appear on the Kelly Clarkson show to appear in its “Rad Humans” segment.
Although this is the first time she has been recognized for her work on national television, Reyes’ record of service to her community dates back more than 50 years.
Born in 1954 as the second oldest of 10 children, Reyes says being around young people has always been a facet of her life. At age 17, she began running summer programs for youth in her community, providing activities that served as alternatives to gang membership. But by the 1990s, the conflicts had only gotten worse.
“At this particular time in our southwest Detroit community, we had a lot of gang activity happening,” says Reyes. “So we really needed to try and come up with something different.”
In 1997, Reyes partnered with four Hispanic auto suppliers who had recently moved their businesses from the suburbs to Detroit’s southwest community. With these businesses, Reyes secured training and employment opportunities for ex-gang members.
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Then, along with then-Mayor Dennis Archer and then-Police Chief Mike McKinnon, she brokered a truce between the area’s most high-profile gang leaders in Ste. St. Anne’s Church.
“Getting them to these jobs has really made a huge difference,” Reyes says. “These young men and women, who were rivals in the gangs, became colleagues working alongside each other. So that really laid the groundwork for a truce between all the gangs and trickled down to the younger guys who were in gangs as well.
The historic truce served as a launching pad for Reyes’ organization, which she has led ever since.
Today, DHDC is a Southwest Detroit institution. It serves more than 500 children a year at its youth center, which houses a robotics program, an urban arts academy, a summer youth program, and a youth ambassador scholarship program.
DHDC’s work doesn’t stop with children, however – it also offers family English lessons, GED training, housing and financial literacy advice, tattoo removal, as well as debt management services. cases and reintegration for formerly incarcerated adolescents and adults.
“We also needed to be able to support parents and families in their homes,” Reyes says. “That’s why we are now focusing on the whole family.”
Perhaps the most compelling testimony to DHDC’s success is its staff: nearly half are graduates of the organization’s in-house programs, and many are former gang members.
Reyes is no stranger to accolades for her work: she’s been honored by the Detroit Tigers and endowed by the Kresge Foundation. But she says getting the call to appear on the national Kelly Clarkson show earlier this year “was a bit daunting”.
“I got a call from someone on their production team about a month ago saying they had stumbled upon our website and were interested in doing the story about me and the organization. “, says Reyes. “They spoke to us several times, interviewed several of us on the phone…then they flew us out. It was kind of a whirlwind. »
On the show, Reyes appeared alongside Isabell Maynard, an 18-year-old woman and aspiring singer who called Reyes the reason she’s alive today. After losing her father to gang violence and her mother in prison at just eight months old, Isabelle was taken in by Reyes, who raised and supported her as a member of the family.
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“Thank you for being the light of our community for me and for many others like me,” Maynard said on the show. “Thank you for not abandoning me.”
Both were greeted with tears and applause from the audience as well as from Clarkson herself, who called Reyes “nothing less than an angel here on earth.”
“She’s so adorable,” Reyes says of Clarkson. “And you know, she also had a bit of a struggle and (faced) challenges growing up. So I think he’s a really generous and genuine person. All of his staff were wonderful.
Reyes received a $15,000 donation from Rad Humans partner Comcast Xfinity, along with cell phones and a year of internet service for his family.
“It was very gratifying to know that (Comcast) really believes in the work we do,” Reyes said, adding that the money will help with the center’s planned expansion.
“Even though our building is 28,000 square feet, we’re running out of space because there’s so much going on,” Reyes says. “Since it’s money that we can use according to our needs, it goes much further (than a grant). In fact, it makes a big difference.
For more information on the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, visit dhdc1.org.
Lauren Wethington is a breaking news reporter. You can email her at [email protected] or find her on Twitter at @laurenelizw1.