Danielle D. Hughes considers herself a chief changemaker and has become one of Detroit’s most recognizable millennials for youth advocacy and empowerment. Hughes is the founding partner and COO of Detroit Speaks Inc., a nonprofit organization providing low-income teens with mentorship, coaching, leadership and personal development skills to help them achieve their dreams. At Detroit Speaks, Hughes works with teens to increase their social awareness, community involvement and help them to build a foundation for personal and professional success through a series of after-school programs, community clean-ups and a three month “Emerging Leaders” accelerator course that matches students with local entrepreneurs and professionals for one-on-one mentoring. Pledging daily to be the person she says she needed when she was younger, the astute social entrepreneur, humanitarian and proud native Detroiter has made it her mission to make an impact in the lives of her hometown youth.
Hughes also made history this year, as she was welcomed into the 2018 class of Forbes‘ “30 Under 30” for her profound work in education. Hughes has also been hosting her own vision board series in cities across the country since 2015. And in her latest endeavor to inspire more changemakers, Hughes executes interactive, one-on-one coaching services as a vision strategist, helping clients effectively transition from dreamers to doers.
Rolling out spoke with this millennial chief changemaker to get her insight on exactly what a changemaker does, what she believes her superpower is and also how she feels to be a part of Forbes‘ “30 Under 30” class of 2018.
What is a “chief changemaker” and what do they do?
A chief changemaker is one that has a deep-rooted sense of empathy for their community and wants to see change. They identify a specific problem or need and do something about it. They don’t make excuses; they make their own rules. Changemakers are passionate, persistent and fueled by purpose.
Congrats on being honored on the Forbes “30 under 30.” What an accomplishment at such a young age. How does it feel being a nationally recognized leader in your twenties?
Thank you. It feels good. I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to represent the city of Detroit (and the amazing work that we’re doing) on such a national level. With such a prestigious honor comes much more responsibility. I know there’s still a lot of work to be done as it relates to revolutionizing education in Detroit, but I’m up for the challenge.
How did you determine your career path?
I always say that I didn’t choose this life but this life chose me. At 16, I made up my mind that I wanted to pursue a career in journalism. I job-shadowed a news anchor at the local NBC affiliate in Detroit my junior year of high school and instantly fell in love with the business. Fast forward, I accepted my first position as a news reporter in Alabama a few weeks before my 23rd birthday. I ended up being fired from that job less than five months later. I was hired as a news anchor a month later in Georgia and ended up being let go from that position as well within a year. I used to be so miserable at my job Monday through Friday that I created a vision board workshop for young girls called “Oh, the places you’ll go!” We met every weekend at local libraries in the area. During that period, I realized my passion was connected to working with young people. I haven’t looked back since.
As a young, Black millennial woman, what do you consider your superpower to be?
I believe that my superpower is connected to helping people unlock their genius and become their best selves. Every person on this Earth has genius level talent. My gift is to help them acknowledge that and walk boldly in it, especially for young women of color.
What thoughtful or encouraging piece of advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell my younger self three pieces of advice:
- No NEVER means no. It means not right now. (Or, you’re asking the wrong person.)
- Find a mentor. (Or two, or three…)
- Read at least one book a month. Readers are leaders.
Why is it important for more experienced Black women to reach back and help younger women of color?
It’s imperative for Black women to reach back to pull others up as they climb. Exposure is important and representation matters. When young women of color see women that look like themselves shattering glass ceilings and breaking barriers, it ignites a fire of possibility inside of them and reassures them that they can do it too.
What inspires you to show up at work every day?
Knowing that I’m making a difference. I always strive to be the person that I wished I had when I was younger. I enjoy sowing into my young people and watching them unlock their genius and achieve their dreams.
If you could have any person in the world become your mentor, who would it be and why?
Definitely Jay-Z. I admire his street savvy and business acumen. He has reinvented himself time and time again and still remains on top of his game. He is a true testament to creating a vision and sticking to it. Watching his matriculation throughout the years has been inspiring to say the least.