By: Harsha Nahata
For Marlowe Stoudamire, people — not buildings — are Detroit’s greatest commodity.
“We spend so much time incubating businesses and ideas. Buildings and structures can fall down, they can fail,” Stoudamire says. “People will always keep coming back. The most important story to me is the legacy of Detroiters who never left and who never stopped working.”
Stoudamire is the chief engagement strategist and founder at Butterfly Effect Detroit, a consulting agency that works with large corporations, small businesses, nonprofits and entrepreneurs. The 39-year-old is also the brainchild behind MASH Detroit, director of the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 project and a recurring contributor to Detroit Public Television as host of “American Black Journal.”
Whether he’s mentoring young African-American professionals in the city, bringing together diverse individuals as part of Detroit Harmonie, a nonprofit focused on breaking down racial barriers, or working with youth through Butterfly Effect Detroit, his passion for relationships echoes throughout his work.
“Relationships are my superpower,” he says.
Those who know him wouldn’t argue against that.
“Marlowe has the unique ability to speak to people where they are, no matter their social or economic backgrounds.” says Kirk Mayes, CEO of Forgotten Harvest and a good friend of Stoudamire’s.
Growing up in the 48205
Born and raised in Detroit, Stoudamire’s journey begins on the east side where he grew up only a few blocks from MASH Detroit.
“My father was a blue collar guy who worked double shifts, and my mom was a housewife. We got a pass from the bad guys on the block, because my father was the only one who talked to them and they respected him,” says Stoudamire who has two brothers and sisters. “I grew up in the 48205. At some point the FBI held that as one of the deadliest ZIP codes in America, but it wasn’t all bad. Bad things were happening around me, but my childhood wasn’t bad.”
It was in this environment that Stoudamire first began to incubate his curiosity about people.
“That upbringing shaped me,” Stoudamire says. “When you grow up in that environment you see it as the norm, and because I didn’t have another point of reference, the things I read about in books or saw on TV didn’t seem real. It stoked an early fire in me to imagine or dream about how other people lived.
Cass Tech “Technicians”
From there, Stoudamire attended Cass Technical High School where he met his wife, Valencia Stoudamire, director for nonclinical strategic sourcing at Henry Ford Health Systems.
“At Cass Tech, I saw the diversity that exists within my community,” Stoudamire says. “Not all black people have the same experiences.”
The summer after he graduated, Stoudamire remembers witnessing how varied these experiences could be.
“I remember going to the mall with some kids from my neighborhood, and they asked ‘Where are you going to be working now that you’re done with school?'” Stoudamire says. “Later that summer I was talking to friends from Cass Tech and their question was ‘Where are you going to college?’ There was nothing wrong with the kids from the East side, but people had a different expectation for them of what you did after high school.”
The people who helped along the way
Stoudamire points out that while he didn’t have “corporate role models” growing up, he had people, especially black women, who mentored and guided him.
“Black women are so undervalued and underrated in the success of black men,” he says. “Whether it was Dr. Marilyn French Hubbard at Henry Ford Health System or Shirley Stanccato and Marshalle Montgomery at New Detroit, these were the sisters and mothers who invested in me before anyone else would.”
While working at Henry Ford, Stoudamire crossed paths with Robert Riney, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Henry Ford Health System. What started as a conversation over coffee turned into a lifelong mentorship.
“When I think of Marlowe, I think of someone who cares deeply about Detroit and its ongoing renaissance,” Riney says. “Young, energetic leaders like him are the future of this city.”
Under Riney’s guidance, Stoudamire was tapped to help Henry Ford Health Systems develop a global strategy around international engagement. In this role, he visited India, Saudi Arabia and China to run studies.
“I finally got to do the travel I had always wanted to, and I realized that people don’t know me for what I’m doing in India,” Stoudamire says. “People know me for the passion I’m showing in Detroit.”
From across the world to back home in Detroit
In 2013, Stoudamire received a Marshall Memorial Fellowship, awarded to worldwide leaders in business, government and civil society. Inspired by a visit to The Egg in Brussels, Belgium during the fellowship, Marlowe saw what an organic space for social connections could do. And he knew it was time to leverage his experiences to launch Detroit’s own version.
“I wanted to bring something like that to Detroit and create a space where people from all walks of life can interact,” he says. “After over 15 years of investing in others, I asked people to invest in me. Not money, but their presence.”
And so, in June 2016, with the help of community partners like Eastside Community Network and Land, Inc., MASH Detroit opened its doors on the corner of Mack and Ashland. Located on the historically controversial border of Detroit and Grosse Pointe and just a few minutes away from the house Stoudamire was born in, MASH Detroit is a mixed use space carefully designed to create an environment that constantly evolves and facilitates organic social collisions of people, culture and ideas.
“I view MASH Detroit as social real estate — a way to bring resources, investment and visibility to more than just the 7.2 square miles of downtown and Midtown, promote equity in our neighborhood and transcend the divide between Detroit and its suburbs,” Stoudamire says as he sits in a corner at MASH. “I’m tired of seeing people walk into our community and make us consumers. Come and consume our culture; come MASH up with us, in our neighborhood.”
Stoudamire was also motivated to launch MASH as a way to change the negative perceptions surrounding Detroit. He recalls sitting on the couch one night a few years ago watching NBC’s “Dateline” with Chris Hansen.
“He was making Detroit seem like a third world country. And that’s not the only Detroit I know. There’s more here if you choose to look,” Stoudamire says. “I felt it was time for me to represent the city I knew and the city I know we have the potential to become.”
Stoudamire says that moment inspired him to take ownership of his story and hopes his work enables others in his community to do the same.
“I realized I couldn’t just say someone should do something. I was someone. I wanted to be the change that I wanted to see in the narrative around Detroit, to help create our own stories,” he says. “I’m not saying MASH is the final product, but what you will not see me do is sit on the couch and shake my head ever again. I’m activated.”
Stoudamire’s wife, Valencia, attests to her husband’s “genuine commitment to the city of Detroit and its people.”
“We consciously chose to stay here, even when Detroit wasn’t the hotspot that it is now,” she adds.
Grounded by a strong network of support, in 2014 Stoudamire went into business with Butterfly Effect Detroit, a consultancy that helps businesses, nonprofits and entrepreneurs connect with others.
Yet Stoudamire says his biggest accomplishment is maintaining a “sense of integrity and social awareness” of where he comes from, and the people who’ve helped shape his path.
“No one can tell me better than me who Marlowe Stoudamire is,” he says with confidence. “I’m a prototype of my work. And after years of taking jobs out of ambition, I decided I wanted to pursue my passion and take a chance on myself.”
Harsha Nahata is a freelance writer and filmmaker. She is currently working with the Council of Asian Pacific Americans on a short documentary film about youth growing up in Asian American households and their connections to their roots. Prior to this she was a Challenge Detroit fellow working in communications and public affairs for DTE Energy. She has also served as a City Year Detroit Americorps member at Northwestern High School and an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. In her free time, Harsha likes to doodle, spontaneously break out into Bollywood dance moves, and watch reruns of the West Wing. Her work has appeared in publications such as Huffington Post and Brown Girl Magazine.