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Boys & Girls Clubs ignited his passion, now decades later this Detroit artist is back as a mentor

Posted at 10:21 PM, Sep 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-19 10:15:41-04

DETROIT (WXYZ) — Before Phillip Simpson was creating smiles across Detroit with his art, he was a kid growing up at 7 Mile and Hoover.

"As a kid, you're dealing with things that kids deal with; you're dealing with confidence, you're dealing with possible bullies," said Simpson of The Smile Brand.

But nearby, there was a place for community, a place for exploration that helped ignite Phillip’s true passion.

"In my neighborhood, there was a Boys & Girls Club that I attended as a kid, and it was actually one of my first art classes," he said.

Now, decades later — he’s back with Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan, a testament to the impact of the organization.

"I'm here now as a father, as a mentor, as an artist, and my kid is inside with the Boys & Girls Club kids. It feels really good," said Simpson.

For nearly 100 years, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan has empowered local youth.

"The root cause of most of the issues facing our youth is poverty or lack of economic mobility opportunity. So now Boys & Girls Clubs, we're all about economic mobility, which means the youth will leave our clubs career, startup and homeowner already," said Shawn Wilson, president & CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan.

And the organization’s recent merger with Ponyride, a small business incubator, has taken their programming to the next level. Businesses can rent out space in the club locations with many of them passing valuable skills on to the kids.

"Ponyride plays a really important role in that because it's that incubator arm that helps our youth to become startup ready. And you know, entrepreneurship is not a curriculum. It's really an environment. It's a culture, it's a language, it's a network and a connection that our youth need to really find that pipeline and grow as entrepreneurs," said Shawn.

And it’s that pipeline that leaders hope leads talent right back to the neighborhoods.

"That's our moonshot mission, is that we want what happens in these four walls to permeate throughout the entire community, and lift up the entire community and ultimately lead to economic revitalization for these neighborhoods," said Shawn.

Detroit creative Trent Garcons said he’s thankful for his growth within the club ecosystem.

"I was in here ... every day, kind of like five days throughout the week ... they were helping me as far as like the business side of things and like learning different ... materials," said Trent.

And it’s people like Phillip who are right there, encouraging Trent as a mentor and friend.

"He just gave me a different perspective on how I can take my art ... he made me ... more confident," said Trent.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan is one of six charities benefiting from the Charity Preview at the North American International Auto Show.

The others include:

  • The Children’s Center
  • The Children’s Foundation
  • Detroit Auto Dealers Association Charitable Foundation Fund, a fund of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan
  • Detroit PAL
  • University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital

The funding is critical to the organization’s mission.

"Being a part of Charity Preview is really is an honor and it's critical to the work that we're doing, because everyone knows that event revenue is really unrestricted revenue. And that allows us to ... do the kind of innovation that we're doing to to rethink, to re-imagine the work that we're doing for greater community impact."

And to push for more of those full-circle success stories, which are certainly something to smile about.

"We just got to keep it going, keep the smiles going, keep the energy going and know that you can change the world with ... one smile at a time," said Phillip.

He added, "if I'm 40 this year, 20 years from now, I'm 60; I'll still be making sure I'm giving back, talking to kids, talking to youth, talking to young adults and still talking to people."