The woman selected to lead one of the most prominent philanthropic foundations in metro Detroit is a passionate advocate for racial equity and social justice — two issues at the heart of discussions about improving the lives of Detroit’s schoolchildren.
“This is an electric city I’m coming into, hat in hand, ready to listen and learn,” said Angelique Power. On Monday afternoon, the Skillman Foundation (a Chalkbeat funder) announced she would become the nonprofit’s new president and chief executive officer.
Her selection wraps up a months-long search to replace Tonya Allen, who led the organization since 2014 before leaving for a job in Minnesota earlier this year.
Power, whose job with Skillman begins Sept. 13, is currently president of the Field Foundation in Chicago, where she led racial equity efforts that resulted in the foundation rethinking how and who it funds.
The Skillman Foundation, which celebrated its 60th anniversary last year, is known as a strong advocate for Detroit’s children and their education.
“Skillman’s approach to philanthropy really resonates with me,” Power said. “It’s admirable. It’s important. Skillman leverages all that it has to offer in service of children,” Power said.
Suzanne Shank, the vice chair of the Skillman Foundation board who led the search for a new president, said Power was a unanimous choice of the search committee and the board.
“She really rose to the top of the pack as being a visionary leader who had a strong reputation for consensus building across a broad divide of people,” said Shank, president and CEO of Siebert Williams Shank & Co. “She definitely has her finger on the pulse of the racial justice movement.”
The latter was crucial, Shank said, “given the time we’re in right now.”
“We felt that someone who is known as a champion of racial justice, but who also can come into the Detroit market sort of fresh and new and give a different perspective, would really provide some value,” Shank said.
“We’re witnessing this generational shift in this past year alone, where we saw all of these uprisings that were youth led, that were calling for systems change and asking us to sort of rise to the occasion,” Power said. “And I feel like Skillman has the track record. It’s been working on this for some time. And that appeals to me.”
Power already has some familiarity with the city. She spent time volunteering here when she was a student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Two of her previous foundation jobs had connections to the city. Power, the daughter of a Chicago public school teacher and a Chicago police sergeant, also spent many summers and weekends traveling to West Michigan, where the family owned a small cottage.
She plans to move to the region this summer with her husband, Sean, and her 11-year-old daughter, Sadie Lousiane.
She said she’s not coming in with any plans to make changes at Skillman. Instead, she wants to build on what Allen started.
“Tonya is a rock star. She’s beloved and she’s brilliant. What she built, she built with love. And I feel a deep responsibility to her work, her legacy, her name.”
That’s why her priority early on will be to listen to Detroit residents. In particular, she wants to hear from young people “what they want from Skillman in this moment.”
She’s well aware that Detroiters at times can be skeptical because “they’ve had too many experiences with outsiders who have an extractive relationship with Detroit.”
For her, though, coming to Detroit is like a calling.
“We all are needed to unlock an equitable future for [Detroit] children.”