Meet Sirene Abou-Chakra, director of development f...

Meet Sirene Abou-Chakra, director of development for the City of Detroit

We couldn’t do what we do here at Detour without our paying subscribers — all of you who support our work and inspire us to keep writing! This week, we caught up with Detour member Sirene Abou-Chakra. Sirene is the director of development for the City of Detroit and says she appreciates the constructive analysis Detour provides. Stop, we’re blushing! 

Meet Sirene…

Q: What neighborhood do you live in? A: Islandview 

What’s your favorite thing about where you live? I live right off the river and my grocery store, gym, local park and work are all walking distance away. 

What do you do for a living? I am the Director of Development for the City of Detroit. 

How do you give back? Before this job, I worked at Google for 10 years. Walking away from the private sector and into public work has centered me in a lot of ways. I spend my days telling the city of Detroit’s story in hopes that foundations, corporations and government agencies invest in our city. 

I started a nonprofit years ago that aims to get Arab-American youth into top colleges across the country (it’s called Doors of Opportunity). Prior to applying to the University of Michigan, I believed that it was too far, too good, too much for me. I wanted to eradicate that fear and still work every day to make sure people believe all opportunities are available to them. 

What’s the most important change you’d like to see in the city? Earlier, I mentioned that I have the privilege in being able to walk to my work, gym, and grocery store. I’m going to take a page out of Planning Director Maurice Cox’s vision of having a 20-minute neighborhood for every Detroiter. The ability to get to work, school, parks and stores changes a person’s quality of life. In a city where 35% of residents don’t have a car, creating these micro-economies and accessibility will be a deciding factor in social mobility. 

Why do you love living here? When I was a teenager, techno music brought me to Detroit on the regular. You could find the best DJs in the world playing small, intimate clubs around town. The music brought me to Detroit; the people and soul helped me back.

Some people like to make things incrementally better. I would rather build something from the ground up. After decades of disinvestment in Detroit, I see opportunity to establish new processes, infrastructure and utilities. Other cities have to deconstruct in order to construct; here in Detroit, we can build for the future.  

What’s your favorite thing you learned or read in Detour? Truthfully, I appreciate the way Detour critiques the work of City Hall. Journalism is more important today than ever, and it’s incredibly important to have my work and the administration’s open to criticism and feedback. Keep it coming. It makes us better.  

Who is your community? How would you describe your community in 5 words? I was born in Beirut, grew up in Michigan and spent most of the last twelve years a citizen of the globe. Community’s what you make it. 

Favorite meals in the Detroit area: Rafic’s Falafel

Favorite place for a fancy night out: Selden Standard then Willis Show Bar

Favorite dive bar: Nancy’s

Favorite place to watch live music: Motor City Wine

Favorite park: Mt. Elliott Park

Favorite place to take a visitor: The Schvitz

Favorite place to spend a lazy Sunday: The Harbortown pool

Detroit mentor or source of inspiration: Nicole Sherard-Freeman of the Detroit Employment Solutions Corporation

Local writing, music or art recommendation? TOO many to choose from; this category is what makes Detroit such an interesting city.

Ashley Woods Branch is the founder and CEO of Detour Media, a local journalism startup that builds community, spotlights neighborhood issues and curates Detroit news through an equitable perspective. Ashley leads Detour’s audience growth strategies, community partnerships, revenue operations and strategic planning. She’s also a sought-after consultant for digital newsrooms and has worked with more than 100 news outlets across America. Ashley previously led consumer experience and digital strategy at the Detroit Free Press and was the editor of HuffPost’s Detroit bureau, as well as a reporter and editor focused on Detroit culture and development for MLive, Real Detroit Weekly and Model D. She was a 2019 Marshall Memorial Fellow and a 2018 Visiting Nieman Journalism Fellow at Harvard University. Follow her on Twitter: @ash_detroit