Angela Reyes is a dynamic leader in the Latino and Southwest Detroit communities, where she grew up. She is the founder and Director of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation (DHDC), a youth violence prevention and gang retirement organization located in neutral gang territory in Southwest Detroit. She started DHDC in her living room, when she helped to form a truce between the leadership of several rival gangs and negotiated the release of gang members in exchange for jobs. Today, DHDC offers a range of programs, including GED basic education, retired gang member re-entry, tattoo removal, English language training, after-school and summer programs for children at risk for gang involvement, and a parent leadership and advocacy training program to address issues such as education, immigration, environmental justice and health. Angela also collaborates with other leaders in the Latino community to address community- and systems-level change. Young people are Angela’s and DHDC’s motivation and teachers. Angela marks success in violence prevention initiatives at the DHDC by the number of graduations she attends each year, which now exceed the number of funerals she attends. Her leadership and innovation in the areas of violence prevention and issues that face the Latino community make her an obvious public health hero.
Career in Profile:
- 1986 – Wayne State University, BA in Political Science
- 1986 – 1997 – Director of Youth Services, Latino Family Services
- 1987 – Present – Trainer and consultant for community collaborations, community-based participatory research partnerships, and issues related to youth violence and gangs
- 1997 – University of Michigan, Masters of Public Health, Health Management and Policy
- 1997 – Present – Founder and Executive Director of Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation
How did you come to do this work?
Most of my career I’ve worked with youth. I’m the second of ten children, so I grew up working with youth in one way or another. I began my career running summer programs in this community. When I was a teenager, we only had summer youth programs. When I was 19, I organized a meeting with community leaders and groups to establish year-round youth programs. That was the beginning of the year-round youth program at LA SED (Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development, a non-profit organization in Southwest Detroit). Actually, Southwest Detroit has some of the most – in terms of number and quality – youth programs in the city, due to our long history of working in this community. I started DHDC after years of youth work at multiple organizations, including 12 years as Youth Director at Latino Family Services. Youth work was my core.
While I was still at Latino Family Services, I met several people from the University of Michigan School of Public Health. They told me that the work that I was doing was really public health – I was doing violence prevention, substance prevention, HIV prevention, drop-out prevention. They said, “That’s public health.” I’d never heard of public health. They recruited me into the University of Michigan in the On Jobs-On Campus Program, where I went through a 24-month public health boot camp to get my degree in public health in policy and management. The program gave me the solid, broad training to do my current work – not just direct service, but also the administrative piece. I was midway through that 24-month training when I left Latino Family Services and started DHDC.
What are some of your best career successes or career highlights?
I don’t know that I think much about my career highlights. I guess I’d have to say establishing DHDC, and growing it for 15 years now – we recently celebrated our quinciñera, with dinner and dancing.
Seeing young people be successful is my career success. None of this would be worthwhile if the young people and the parents weren’t successful. We’ve had some parents who started out really shy – almost scared in some cases – who now hold leadership positions. Some who were citizens, some who became citizens, and some who have gotten jobs in leadership positions and have made tremendous strides and are now leaders in their own right – both parents and youth. I think those are the biggest accomplishments, more than a building or degrees. It’s those relationships.
I’m also proud to have taken a leadership role in moving the Latino agenda forward. The Latino community in Detroit has been invisible until this point, but we’re creating a movement in our community which is very unprecedented. It’s really changing. We’re being a voice and getting recognized. I think that is a really significant thing that I have been able to play a piece in.
When it comes to public health, what matters to you and why?
Working on the issues of racial equity and health disparities. Those are systemic issues that have had long-term impacts on this community, and they are the underlying causes of a lot of public health issues. Addressing those systemic issues means that we won’t have to do the same work over and over again.
What are some of our most pressing public health challenges?
Education. The Detroit Urban-Academic Research Center is helping parents and youth become leaders, because education and health are intricately related. One of the biggest determinants of health status is education and income. The environmental factors are some other challenges in this community, like when the government builds more bridges to Canada and increases truck traffic. It can feel overwhelming to try to address these challenges, because there are so many forces pushing for these changes that don’t factor in the health of the community.
Youth violence is another issue. In particular, having the needs of the Latino community recognized and addressed. Some people forget that we are 12% of the population in the city now. In the past, we have been 3% [of the Detroit population], and people are still operating as if we were 3%.
Immigration has tremendous implications for health access to services. Let me use HIV services as an example, because we do HIV testing and counseling as well. People are afraid to get tested because they may not be eligible for citizenship if they test positive. They’re really in the shadows. We suspect there’s a large HIV-positive population that has not been uncovered yet.
What do you think it will take to address some of these challenges?
Partnership and collaboration. For example, with the Latino agenda and the systemic issues that we’ve started to address, we’ve been very intentional about creating stronger relationships with other communities, particularly the African-American community. In this area we also have a large Arab- and Native-American community, and we’ve also worked with the White community and other allies that have similar interests. Truly establishing those partnerships is probably the only way we’re going to survive and succeed.