A Detroit Mom’s Quest to Breathe Innovation Into Young Minds

12/23/11Follow @XconomyDET

I’m fond of saying that what Detroit needs is a Cory Booker. But I need to amend that: What Detroit really needs is a few more people like Ida Byrd-Hill, the founder of Uplift Inc., a startup whose motto is “Utilizing intellectual property, real estate, and technology to lift people out of tragedy by reconstructing cities one idea at a time.”

Byrd-Hill is an indomitable mother of two with an obvious passion for Detroit and its children. She says things like: “I don’t take up a cause lightly, and I don’t take it up to lose.”

“I will grind up a superintendent like it’s nothing.”

“If I have to pass laws to force you to do your job, then that’s what I’ll do.”

She doesn’t tolerate mediocrity or excuses, especially when it pertains to her kids. Byrd-Hill spent years traveling the globe as a financial advisor and corporate headhunter before giving birth to her twins, who are now in their first year of college.

She began advocating for the children of Detroit after her kids started school and she learned firsthand how dysfunctional the Detroit Public School (DPS) system can be. There’s no doubt she’s made more than one teacher who hoped to coast through the school year with the same old insufficient lesson plan quake in his boots.

One day when her son was younger, she asked him how his class experiments were going. “What experiments?” he replied. She fired off an email to the teacher asking for a list of the experiments he planned to have the students do during the school year. She received a “flip” response.

Her blood boiling—her children are her legacy after all, just like they’re Detroit’s legacy—she drove over to Grosse Pointe, a tony suburb east of the city, walked into a school, and asked if she could have a list of experiments being taught to students in the same grade as her son. They emailed her the requested information a few hours later. Experiencing the stark contrast in service kicked off “a long battle” between Byrd-Hill and DPS in which she demanded that school officials be held accountable for what goes on in Detroit schools, which has an abysmal estimated … Next Page »

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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