A neighbor's perspective: Rayshawn Riley on making a difference in Flint

Working in Flint is personal for Rayshawn Riley. He grew up here, still lives here, and is determined to make a difference here.

Growing up in north Flint, he says, was challenging. Now a student at the University of Michigan-Flint, Riley was able to overcoming obstacles and negative influences. 

“I am a living testimony about not becoming a product of my environment,” says Riley, 21, a graduate of Hamady High School. “I once heard a speaker say, ‘Don’t go where the path may lead, but go where there is no path and leave a trail.’ I knew if I wanted to make a difference, I would have to redefine my values and make a new trail for youth to follow.”

Through the Diplomat Fellowship program, Riley led an effort with the Ruth Mott Foundation over the summer to hear from young people from his own neighborhood about their involvement in the north Flint community.

Riley’s goal was to develop a model for engaging young people in north Flint that would help prepare them for involvement and leadership in community organizations and positive change efforts. Riley worked closely with Tryphena Clarke, the Ruth Mott Foundation’s community engagement officer, to implement the program by researching best practices, recruiting youth to participate in focus groups and surveys, and selecting training topics.

Riley engaged with more than 100 young people, asking them about the barriers they face in becoming involved, the types of activities they would participate in, and how much time they could dedicate to community engagement.

“This project was personal, as I’ve spent my entire life on the city’s northside. I’ve encountered many of the same challenges facing youth here today, so I was passionate about making sure our engagement model was consistent with their needs,” Riley said. “I wanted their voices to be heard and to give them an opportunity to make their community a better place by stepping out as leaders.”

Riley was one of six in the Diplomat Fellowship Program this year, and the first from Flint to be selected into the exclusive program. Each fellow led a different project during the 11-week program—but Riley says this is just the beginning of his commitment to Flint.

“Being a Diplomat Fellow has inspired me to pursue a career in philanthropy and give back to my community. This is not the end of my journey but the beginning. I plan to stay involved and be a positive role model to Flint’s youth and use my time and efforts to make a lasting impact on the community,” Riley said.
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