CitizenDetroit project to engage more residents in contributing to city decision-making and revitalization with $750,000 from Knight Foundation

Press Release

January 7, 2015


Wayne State University will lead efforts to expand CitizenDetroit programming and educational outreach

DETROIT – Jan. 7, 2015 – As Detroit continues its transition out of bankruptcy, CitizenDetroit, a project of Wayne State University, will expand to educate the city’s residents about local government and the decision-making process as a way to involve them more deeply in public policy development and city revitalization. The expansion is supported by $750,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The goal of CitizenDetroit is to help residents think critically about candidates and emerging political issues — including budget, safety, transportation and other city challenges — so that they can engage more broadly in the political process and participate in elections. The program uses community-based gatherings, dialogue sessions, town hall meetings, social media and other resources to heighten residents’ knowledge of critical issues. 

With three-year support from Knight Foundation, CitizenDetroit, an initiative of Wayne State’s Forum on Contemporary Issues in Society, will expand this programming to reach more citizens. CitizenDetroit was created in 2012 when the city was in extreme financial distress and facing a number of municipal woes, leading up to its filing for bankruptcy in 2013.

One of the aims of the program is to increase voter participation in the 2017 city elections. Detroit, like many other cities, has relatively poor voter turnout for elections that focus solely on local and regional issues.

“Detroit is at an inflection point in its history and Wayne State, through its strengths in students, faculty and staff and this support from Knight Foundation, is prepared to make a difference,” said Irvin D. Reid, inaugural holder of the Eugene Applebaum Chair in Community Engagement and president emeritus at the university. “The future will be shaped by the choices that engaged citizens make not just in elections, but also on policy issues ranging from the city’s bankruptcy to the future of public transportation.”

“Through CitizenDetroit, Detroit residents will meet face to face in town hall meetings and dinner-and-dialogue sessions, while countless others will engage via social media and training programs,” said Sheila Cockrel, former Detroit City Council member, adjunct faculty member of the Irvin D. Reid Honors College at Wayne State, and CEO of Crossroads Consulting Group. “Each CitizenDetroit interactive session will offer participants the opportunity to learn more about the critical issues facing the city and enhance their leadership and collaboration skills to build even stronger communities of informed and engaged citizens.”

“Providing Detroit citizens with more of the knowledge and tools they need to engage meaningfully in the political process is essential to setting a positive, participatory agenda for change in the city,” said Katy Locker, Knight Foundation program director for Detroit. “The expansion of CitizenDetroit comes at a timely and pivotal time for Detroit as it begins to invest and rebuild its civic infrastructure; ensuring that more Detroiters are a part of that means that we get to shape our future together.”

Since Cockrel and Reid established CitizenDetroit in 2012, the project has worked to educate and mobilize residents of all ages. Through the additional funding, more citizens—including youth and older adults residing in Detroit—will benefit from CitizenDetroit dialogue sessions leading up to the 2017 elections.

CitizenDetroit will also produce media products, including a 30-minute documentary film highlighting Detroit’s historic challenges and a DVD for facilitator training. It will develop an educational toolkit for secondary educators to supplement learning for youth who participate in dialogue sessions. Wayne State students will participate in the Forum on Contemporary Issues in Society and CitizenDetroit through service learning opportunities at the university.

Support for these projects forms one part of Knight Foundation’s efforts in Detroit to attract and keep talented people, expand economic opportunity and create a culture of engagement. Knight Foundation, along with several other players, has also invested in Detroit’s “grand bargain,” a deal between the state and the city to help ease it out of bankruptcy. Since 2008 Knight has pledged more than $80 million to Detroit, including a $19.25 investment in the arts announced in October 2012.

About Forum on Contemporary Issues in Society

Established in 2007, FOCIS is a special initiative that focuses Wayne State University's problem-solving resources on an eclectic range of topics important to the campus community and beyond. FOCIS lectures and related events bring together the institution's teaching, research and service missions to advance the frontiers of knowledge, promote informed debate and encourage responsible citizenship in an increasingly fast-paced, interconnected and complex global society. FOCIS presents coordinated public programs, foreign-study projects, research opportunities and ongoing community dialogues addressing specific issues that confront the citizens of Detroit, the United States and the world. For more information, visit

About the Eugene Applebaum Chair in Community Engagement

The Eugene Applebaum Chair in Community Engagement was created through the generosity of alumnus Eugene Applebaum, founding chair of the Wayne State University Foundation. The Applebaum Chair is a catalyst for cooperation between the university and community organizations on issues in business and economic development, education, health, international outreach, politics and other areas. FOCIS is the Applebaum Chair's primary public platform.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged.