ECC 2018 Catch Up: Charlotte and Detroit

Emerging City Champions (ECC) is a fellowship program led by 8 80 Cities. ECC provides young civic innovators with leadership training and $5,000 in seed funding to launch transformative projects to enhance public space, urban mobility or civic engagement in their city. ECC is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Visit for more, and look for the next application call-out in spring 2020.

This week, we’re catching up with the ECC 2018 cohort to learn about what they accomplished during their 2018-2019 fellowship.

Charlotte, North Carolina

Get Civic handbook, box kit, markers, and supplies on a table

Photo c/o Christine Edwards

Christine Edwards is a local government professional specializing in community outreach and development. As the Community Relations Coordinator for Mecklenburg County, she works to facilitate direct interactions between County staff and the community to civic engagement. Christine is a longtime Charlotte resident and loves everything Charlotte. In her spare time she volunteers, travels, enjoys good southern food and loves seeing urban policy theory play out in everyday life. Public service is her jam.

Christine’s project, Amplify Charlotte, is a boxed toolkit and event series operating at the intersection of activism and civic engagement to make it easier to interact with Charlotte’s local government. The project curriculum has three tracks: Voice, Representation and Change. Christine and her team stocked the boxes with resources from city and county government based on each Amplify Charlotte track and based on community input. These toolkits were distributed at pop up festivals like Open Streets, back to school fairs and civic events. Through ECC, Amplify Charlotte distributed 350 civic kits in 2018-2019, attended 10 community festivals, and established a three month advocacy training with the Lakeview neighborhood. In addition to the advocacy training at Lakeview, the team also developed 350 additional customized civic kits for their neighborhood.

Facing the backs of two people lit up onstage, looking out at a crowd watching them in the dark

Photo c/o Amir Naeem

In the past five years of rigorous architecture schooling, Amir Naeem has grown his self-taught passion in film, music, and media production from simple hobbies to profiting skills. Although he wasn’t born or raised in Charlotte, Amir has always felt a strong attachment to the city mainly because of how it presents itself as a great canvas. Having lived for some time in various cities abroad, Amir believes that he holds an eclectic perspective on how to creatively bring Charlotte to a level where it will stand out when compared to the rest.

Amir’s project, Local Link, was a response to two major setbacks that the hip hop & art community is facing in Charlotte, North Carolina: a lack of infrastructure available to support and grow a underage local hip hop community and make them feel included; and a misrepresentation of the underground culture that already exists in the community. With the ECC grant and additional funding, Amir ran five events and three visual podcast episodes. The five events were: Us versus World @ Camp North End; Bazaar at the Palmer; Dec 6th Opening Artist Competition; Us versus World All Star Weekend Show; and Bipolar Sailor Album Release. The three visual podcast episodes discussed the processes and challenges Amir and his team faced as they created the events, as well as general community discourse discussions. The episode topics were: problems with venues in Charlotte and the art infrastructure; the challenges women creators face in the city; and the community’s role in contributing to the hip hop scene in Charlotte and how they could put on more shows.

Detroit, Michigan

Alexis stands outdoors and speaks into a mic

Photo c/o Alexis Adams-Wynn

Alexis Adams-Wynn lives and works in Detroit as a public health professional and serves as a programming volunteer for the Alger Theater. Her career has been rooted in the intersection of neighborhoods and health for over a decade. She’s worked at the grassroots level on tobacco prevention policies; as a school- and community-based violence prevention specialist; in obesity and built environment research; and across several states, implementing local public health programs. She’s passionate about funding community projects as the Board Lead of Detroit SOUP’s East Jefferson Community, and inspiring black connections and healing in nature as an Outdoor Afro Leader.

Alexis’s project, the Comedy Commons, is an exploration of the human experience of being neighbors in Detroit’s MorningSide, East English Village, and Cornerstone Village communities. Residents, friends, and family were invited to a series of movie nights that include a comedic performance, film screening, and discussion around themes such as gentrification, policing, poverty, racism, class, gender, and sexuality. The Comedy Commons uplifted mental health, civic engagement and storytelling by cultivating safe spaces for neighbors to explore and express the joys and pains of community. This project creates sustainable art and film programming at The Alger, and supports the growth of the local business community.

Using the ECC grant, Alexis continued and expanded the Alger Theater’s outdoor movie series from one film showing to three, and hosted four film discussion series at Terri’s Cakes, a local bakery. She also established relationships with Detroit’s comic community, hiring five comics to perform at each event, and she has begun planning for stand-up/open mic series at the Alger Theater. Alexis leveraged the ECC grant from Knight Foundation to partner with the Detroit FreePress Film Festival, Detroit Institute of Arts, MECCA Development Corporation, and private donors to sponsor film equipment and film screenings. She plans to continue hosting film and comedy nights on behalf of the Alger Theater, as well as comedy shows showcasing the work of local residents who participate in comedy workshops she is planning to run, facilitated by a comedy instructor and supported through other fundraising efforts.

A man gesturing to a patch of wildflowers along a fence as onlookers watch

Photo c/o Timothy Jackson

Native Detroiter Timothy “Paule” Jackson is a creative, visionary, and entrepreneur. He is a proud member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., a member of the Southeastern Michigan Beekeepers Association, a bee ambassador for the honeybee conservancy as well as a Sustainability Ambassador for the City of Detroit. In 2017 he co-founded, Detroit Hives, a Michigan 501c(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to spread bee awareness through conservation and education about honeybees. In less than three years Timothy has helped Detroit Hives transform five vacant lots into educational apiaries, educating well over 2,500 local students in the community.

Timothy’s project, Pollinator Way-Stations, promotes sustainability through urban revitalization, with the goal of repurposing vacant lots for conservation and education about pollinators. Pollinator Way-Stations is founded on the belief that the first thing you see in your community is a direct reflection of yourself. Through ECC, Timothy purchased a once blighted vacant lot and transformed it into a pollinator way-station serving as a natural habitat for insect life, using wild-flower meadows and sunflower and lavender gardens to attract native pollinators. Pollinator Way-Stations hosted tours and educational sessions for students, promoted mental health through horticulture therapy, and improved the quality of life for local residents.

Catch up on other ECC 2018 projects all week on our Stories & Insights page and visit for more information. The call-out for next year’s application will go live in spring 2020.

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