Life In Detroit: Charles Ashley

Charles Ashley United Way Detroit

I am a proud graduate of the University of Michigan-Dearborn; however, since it is predominately a commuter school it took a bit of effort to develop relationships on campus.  In an effort to meet new people I joined the Blueprints Leadership Program my junior year of college.  This wonderful enrichment program introduced me to a lot of great people, including today’s interviewee.  Charles Ashley is a sweetheart, a fellow UMD alum, a former City Year Detroit corps member and currently Visual Content Specialist at the United Way for Southeastern Michigan.  Since we both work downtown, I suggested we meet at one of the city’s newest lunch spot, 7 Greens, to catch up.

What do you like about working for the United Way and working downtown?
The best thing about working for the United Way is knowing that we’re helping to make change in the greater Detroit area on a large scale. We’re holistically trying to help families whether it’s through education, helping people get a more stable income or helping them put food on the table. And about working in Detroit, it’s an awesome city. I’ve been able to look out the windows and see changes – a brighter future happening right in front of your eyes.  I think that’s the most exciting thing about working down here.

Through your work at the United Way you travel all around Detroit.  What surprises you most about the city?
That with as much bad as there is going on in the world people here still care. I was talking to one of my friends and he said if the Purge happened in real life he would come back to Detroit because he would feel safer.  I agree with that.  I would want to be in a city like this if something that crazy happened because I know that people still care and good deeds are still going on.

What are people’s biggest misconceptions about the city?
People’s biggest misconceptions are that it is run down – which is still true in some places but it takes time to make changes.  That it has a majority one population.  That people here are uneducated. And that people here don’t care – well there is some truth to that because the city could be a better place than it was but bad leadership trickled down.  I think those are the misconceptions that we’re battling in the city.

As long as I’ve known you you have been service oriented. What advice do you have for people who are looking to give back to their communities and get involved?
Whatever you’re passionate about can be applied to service to others.  If you like drawing, you can teach an art class. If you like photography, you can take pictures for non-profits.  Whatever your passion is already it doesn’t have to change to be be service oriented it can be adapted to help where the help is needed.

Most people won’t appreciate this question but what is your vision for Detroit?*
My vision for the city is that it will be one of the top places to live and work. The United Way’s big vision is the top place to live and work by 2030, I’m going to stick with that too. 2030 – if not sooner.

What do you think the city needs to do to be that place? How are we going to get the people here?
Positive exposure.  I really like that the organization Detroit Experience Factory housed inside of D:Hive ,does tours taking people from all over the region, state and country to see what the city is doing and the good things that are going on.  They express the troubles that are happening and the troubles of the past as well but they’re showing the progress, showing the potential that is here – the hope that is here. Also the people that are currently here… Detroit is a very prideful city.  We don’t like having outside people come in to help or do things but it’s helped the momentum to get us to the place we want to be.

Be sure to check out Charles’ video from earlier this year (and his other work on the United Way YouTube channel) and while you’re at it #HUGDetroit (or whatever your city is).

*Vision boards were a key component of the Blueprints program.


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