Marlowe Stoudamire was the face and voice of Detroit ’67: Looking Back to Move Forward, a project at the Detroit Historical Society that commemorated the 50th anniversary of Detroit’s 1967 civil unrest. (Courtesy photo)

Detroiters want to celebrate and recognize achievements during this challenging year that has seen many of their own suffer economically and lose loved ones in  the coronavirus pandemic. 

So Black Leaders Detroit, an organization centered on providing opportunities to Black-owned businesses in Detroit, held a virtual ceremony Saturday to celebrate its support of 50 Black-led businesses this year. 

BLD’s mission is to “provide financial support for diverse social and community impact projects originated and led by Detroiters of African descent,” according to its website. And in keeping with that mission, BLD’s virtual event not only saw the organization give away $5,000 in grants to several local businesses, but it also paid tribute to Detroit entrepreneur Marlowe Stoudamire who died from COVID-19 in March. 

Stoudamire, who was 43, was the face and voice of the ambitious Detroit ‘67 project with the Detroit Historical Society that commemorated the city’s 1967 uprising. Multiple friends and colleagues spoke about his commitment to Black Detroiters at the virtual event. 

Dwan Dandridge, CEO of Black Leaders Detroit, wanted to continue Stoudamire’s mission of creating equity for Black, Indigenous and People of Color in Detroit. 

“Marlowe’s definitely one of the people that I bounced the vision off of before launching BLD, and he did a good job of really encouraging me,” Dandridge said. “When you have lofty vision, and an idea you need somebody that thinks bigger than you to run things by because you know sometimes you sound like you’re crazy to everybody else.”

Kirk Mayes, CEO of Forgotten Harvest and best friend of Stoudamire, spoke about his friend’s desire to see improvement for the city’s often left behind residents. 

“His ultimate ambition was not only to lift up the city that he loved, but to really be an example for everyone from the east side, not to just be somebody who could represent, but to be somebody who could be an inspiration, a motivation, a connector, an enabler of the greatest possibility of who we all can be,” Mayes said. 

Black Leaders Detroit partnered with Flagstar Bank to award the $5,000 grants to 36  BIPOC-led businesses, all of whom see an annual income of less than $1 million. (Disclosure: BridgeDetroit received a grant to serve the community with news and information.) 

Stephen Henderson, project executive at BridgeDetroit, says the news outlet fits precisely into Stoudamire’s vision for the city. 

“BridgeDetroit is everything Marlowe believed in. It represents everything he stood for the idea of identifying, listening to and lifting up the voices of our community of people who live in our city, and that, of course, means Black people,” Henderson said. 

Nya Marshall, founder and owner of Ivy Kitchen and Cocktails in Detroit, was another grant recipient. Marshall says the grant money couldn’t have come at a better time.

“The first thing that came to my mind is, I wasn’t sure how I was going to make payroll next week…This grant means that I can make payroll, this grant means that I can keep my staff employed, because that’s one of the biggest obstacles that I’m having right now is operations, inventory and labor costs,” Marshall said.

Other local favorites such as Happy Plate Catering, Le Petit Dejeuner and Detroit Mama Hub received $5,000 grants and were recognized during the event. A full list of recipients is available on the BLD website. 

Asia Hamilton, curator of the Norwest Gallery of Art in the city’s Grand River Annex, says the mission of Black Leaders Detroit is one that speaks to the Black experience in America. 

“It’s important to support Black leaders specifically because we are already having pushback when it comes to us getting our stuff out there and making our mission known. We have to support the people and places that want to support us,” Hamilton said.

Bryce Huffman is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. He was formerly a reporter for Michigan Radio, and host of the podcast, Same Same Different.

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