DETROIT -- The Detroit Red Wings wrap up Black History Month's Game Changers series this week as the organization proudly honors Shawn Wilson, president and chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan.
Wilson joins other February Game Changers honorees Kenyatta Stephens, Khali Sweeney and Portia Roberson as community members who are making a profound difference in youth education, youth wellness or hockey participation, making a positive impact on the lives of young Detroiters.
As a social and tech entrepreneur for more than 25 years, Wilson has dedicated his life to creating economic mobility opportunities for underserved communities. The 46-year-old Atlanta native has started more than 25 social impact organizations throughout his career and has worked tirelessly to develop unique ways for underrepresented children to succeed.
[Learn more about all the Game Changers honorees at DetroitRedWings.com/Equality]
Red Wings and Tigers director of community impact Kevin Brown said Wilson had a hand in developing the Wings' groundbreaking Learn, Play, Score program in February 2020 and is a pioneer in professionalizing celebrity philanthropy for greater social impact.
"As a key partner on our Learn, Play, Score platform, we have seen Shawn's immense impact firsthand," Brown said. "With his wealth of experience, Shawn has taken the local Boys & Girls Clubs to new heights in a very short period of time. The future is truly bright for thousands of children in metro Detroit and beyond because of Shawn and his talented team."
Video: Game Changers Round Table Discussion | Comerica Bank
Wilson joined the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan in November 2018, hoping to turn what has traditionally been an after-school drop-off center into an economic mobility hub for young Detroiters to thrive.
"The Boys & Girls Club is a legacy brand. The brand has been around for 160 years, and our organization has been around for 95 years. That longevity has sustained for a reason," Wilson said. "But I saw the opportunity to reimagine the impact as a neighborhood economic mobility hub for youth entrepreneurship. We make sure the youth are career, startup and homeowner-ready by the time they leave our clubs. That's how we define economic mobility."
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Detroit is the first of its kind in the country to offer co-working space to entrepreneurs--primarily entrepreneurs of color and females--and also sublease their space to entrepreneurs.
"Because of that, we've been able to put $1.8 million directly into the pockets of Black and Brown entrepreneurs over the last two years," said Wilson, whose leadership style has been featured in the New York Times and during keynote speeches at MIT and Harvard. "Those entrepreneurs then create jobs for our youth, so that's how we're able to break the poverty cycle and revitalize neighborhoods, because we're playing a much bigger role than just that drop-off center."
Wilson said he's enthused to play a role in the continued momentum of the recent social justice, equality and inclusion movement, but said there's still a mountain of work to be done to overcome a system designed for underrepresented communities to fail.
"We have to treat the core root of the problem, which is the cycle of generational poverty," he said. "Historically, Black and Brown people have been denied the same level of access to resources to buy homes and they've been denied access to funding for startups. And from a career standpoint, so often, Black and Brown people aren't able to find the same trajectory in corporate America as others are.
"So we need to attack that. We need to attack the system that leads to those things and then we need to attack the barriers for the communities to be able to go up the ladder in each of those areas."
The CEO said that for children in underrepresented communities to find success, it's crucial for them to be able to see people who look like them succeed.
"Representation matters in corporations and nonprofits. Over a 95-year history, I'm the first African American CEO to run this organization," Wilson said. "That representation matters the most when kids can look up to the CEO and see someone who looks like them, who came from a similar background.
"I've had so many kids come up to me and say they want to be CEO of a Boys & Girls Club. And I think that's a powerful statement because they can now see themselves being a CEO."
Wilson said he's blessed to be in a position where he can impact so many young lives and he's humbled by being named as one of four Red Wings Game Changers.
"It's humbling because I don't think we do this work for accolades, we do it for the impact," Wilson said. "Any time you are recognized for the work, it gives you an opportunity to pause and briefly reflect on how blessed you are to be in a position to make a positive impact.
"I realize to be in a position where you can literally change someone's life, even if it's one person, that's powerful. So it's a blessing to be able to impact youth and communities. And opportunities like this give you a chance to briefly pause, reflect on that and then get back to work."
Wilson said the Game Changers series can become a significant tool in creating sustained change in metro Detroit and beyond.
"I think what the Red Wings are doing with the Game Changers is powerful because the Red Wings are part of this community," he said. "It shows they recognize those on the ground making an impact on a daily basis, and I think that's powerful because the Red Wings deal with influencer brands every day.
"Athletes are influencers, and the Red Wings are recognizing a different group of influencers. I think when these two different types of influencers can come together, that's where additional change can happen and we can take change to the next level."
As a Game Changers honoree, Wilson will join Stephens, Sweeney and Roberson in being celebrated at the Red Wings' game this Thursday at Little Caesars Arena where each honoree will receive a personalized jersey, a Game Changers plaque and a $1,000 grant dedicated to the charity of their choice.
For more information on the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan, visit BGCSM.org or call 248-473-1400 and for more information on the Red Wings' Black History Month initiatives, visit DetroitRedWings.com/Equality.