Two people ride bikes along a path next to a small park.
Two people ride bikes along a path next to a small park.

2023 RWJF Culture of Health Prize Winner

Bringing Partners Together To Improve Detroiters’ Wellbeing

Everyone wants to live in a community that has all the resources local residents need to reach their best health. In Detroit, community members are working together to achieve their best health and wellbeing and the best possible future for everyone’s children and grandchildren. Over decades of partnership, Black-led organizations have worked side by side to identify and address community needs. 

The Detroit Association of Black Organizations (DABO)—a longstanding network of more than 130 Black and non-Black organizations that work with other local and state partners—is among those leading that effort. With roots in the civil rights movement, DABO is dedicated to uplifting, unifying, and empowering Detroit’s Black community. The network focuses on increasing Black self-determination while also joining with other organizations to build multiracial coalitions aimed at addressing the area’s major concerns.  

DABO has been bringing together partners from local government agencies, universities, media, community organizations, and businesses to make positive change in the community for more than 40 years. When an issue arises, a collection of DABO member organizations will band together to address it. As Reverend Horace Sheffield III, DABO’s chief executive officer, said, “Our organizations unite to address whatever the particular need is. Whether it's COVID today or blood pressure tomorrow, we're not afraid to take on a challenge.” 

Partners address multiple issues that affect Detroiters’ wellbeing. Because reshaping the stories told about communities of color is an important strategy for dismantling structural racism, DABO partners with local news stations and institutions like the Faith-Based Council within the Detroit Public Schools Community District to connect deeply with the community. Other partner organizations include a Place of Refuge, an organization combating youth homelessness among kids aging out of foster care, and the MacKenzie Noble Community Collaborative, a group of organizations focused on prevention of substance use disorders among teens.

A brick building next to a parking lot. The Detroit Association of Black Organizations' headquarters.
Two people in a doctor’s office. One is sitting while the other is standing. A healthcare worker takes a woman’s blood pressure and administers a COVID test at Premiere Health Clinic.
A group of people sitting around a conference table. Local clergy join Rev. Horace Sheffield III for a meeting at DABO headquarters.

When Detroit became a COVID-19 hotspot in 2020, the closest testing site was 15 miles away from the city. Community members raised the urgent need for free and accessible COVID testing, and DABO worked with its partners at Sinai-Grace Hospital and Wayne State University to make it happen. Together, the organizations set up a free COVID testing site where residents could get tested regardless of symptoms or insurance coverage. Through DABO’s partnership with the Premier Quality Health Center and the Center for Global Health Innovation, the community was also able to access COVID-19 vaccines and timely, accurate information about them.  

Similarly, when high blood pressure rates were on the rise among Black adults in Detroit, DABO’s partners—including UnitedHealth Group and Resolve to Save Lives—came together to identify and treat people with undiagnosed and uncontrolled high blood pressure. The organizations worked with community healthcare workers to bring screening and treatments into the community and into people’s homes so people wouldn’t need to go to the doctor’s office for treatment.  

William Coleman, DABO’s chief financial officer, explained, “Whenever the community identifies a need, we involve as many community-based organizations as we can to facilitate working together. They bring something we don’t have, and we can bring something they don’t have. It’s a stepping stone toward deeper collaboration.”  

After reports of increased suicide rates among young Black Detroiters, DABO member organizations worked with Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network to establish Project Rainbow, a suicide prevention initative focused on Black teenagers. The organization partnered with other local entities, such as the Faith-Based Council, to provide culturally relevant, free mental health first aid training. Project Rainbow has been able to offer suicide prevention training to schools, churches, senior citizens, first responders, families, fraternities, and sororities. 

“Through our collaborative suicide prevention efforts, Project Rainbow has been able to reach a corner of the city that might otherwise not receive support. We are proud the initiative has been able to reach the masses through community engagement and broad media outreach,” said Andrea Smith, director of Innovation & Community Engagement at Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network. 

Whenever the community identifies a need, we involve as many community-based organizations as we can to facilitate working together. They bring something we don’t have, and we can bring something they don’t have. It’s a stepping stone toward deeper collaboration.

—William Coleman, chief financial officer, Detroit Association of Black Organizations

A group of people sitting around a table in a news studio. Rev. Horace Sheffield III meets with local journalists and news directors at local news station, WDIV Local 4.
A crowd of seated people. People gather to watch DABO’s weekly Community Empowerment Speaker Series.
A woman in a red shirt dancing with others dancing in the background. Sizzling Seniors is an exercise class for seniors led by local celebrity Fast Freddy.


DABO member organizations established media and communications partnerships to drive efforts to improve wellbeing in Detroit. WDIV Local 4, a local Detroit news station, works with DABO to increase the news station’s understanding of local priorities and concerns through activities like listening sessions and forums.  

DABO members also have relationships with local and national celebrities they enlist to help encourage healthy behaviors. Those connections have enabled the network to host its Community Empowerment Speaker series, where high-profile experts break down topics related to structural discrimination. This knowledge-sharing can help Detroiters of color improve their wellbeing. Topics range from civil rights to the science behind weight gain to dissecting the media narratives about Black people, all focused on providing Detroiters with information they can use to live their healthiest lives.  

DABO member organizations focus on needs identified by their local community and take their solutions to scale to change conditions beyond providing programs. As Dr. Carolyn Carter, chief of staff at DABO, said, “People know we’re here and that we’ve been here for years. They rely on us for all of their resources. They rely on us for everything they need.” By developing deep partnerships to create pathways to wellbeing, DABO and its partners’ responsive and collaborative leadership will bring about a healthier, more unified Detroit for future generations. 

A woman and man sit on a bunch at a bus stop.

Removing Barriers

Culture of Health Prize winners, Detroit; Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Reservation; and Houston, are removing barriers to create more equitable systems in their communities.
A smiling mother and daughter sit at a table in a room of people doing arts and crafts together.

RWJF Culture of Health Prize

The Prize celebrates communities where people and organizations are collaborating to build positive solutions to barriers that have created unequal opportunities for health and wellbeing.