the Detroit code.
The 48205 is one of the most dangerous zip codes in one of the most dangerous cities in America. It’s also the neighborhood that forged Marlowe Stoudamire — social capital expert, business strategist and founder of the ‘Butterfly Effect’ consulting firm — into the Detroiter he is today.
“There’s this stigma we had growing up that people viewed the east side as kind of the bottom of the barrel. You saw yourself being stereotyped in a box. It forced you to either adjust to it and accept the situation as reality, or you could do what I did… daydream and envision a life that was different than what I saw growing up.”
Marlowe dreamed big. Rather than follow the path preordained by circumstance, he longed to visit the exotic, different parts of the world he discovered in books and on television. Places that never felt real because of how far it felt from where he grew up. So, he set out on a mission to make it happen. Going for his Undergrad at Wayne State in Detroit and getting his Masters in International Administration at Central Michigan University, Marlowe stamped himself a ticket to see the world on behalf of Henry Ford Health System’s international business development efforts.
He’s come a long way since those humble beginnings, but after years of traveling, he found the corporate world wasn’t as fulfilling as he knew it could be.
“I’ve traveled around the country and abroad doing cool projects. I’ve had an international fellowship as a Marshall Memorial Fellow. And I was feeling like, here I am doing all these things that I thought would make me happy, but I always came home and felt like I hadn’t really had an impact on my city.”
It’s a feeling that became starkly clear when TV again intervened. This time in the form of a now legendary ‘Dateline’ story.
Marlowe remembers the moment distinctly, “I was watching Chris Hansen on TV, and he was showing a man in Detroit eating raccoon due to hard times. I started getting text messages and phone calls about it from friends outside the city. And that’s not the Detroit I know.”
Those awkward conversations about bad press as a Detroiter abroad made him realize that while he was trying to create value for people around the world, his real purpose was back home in Detroit.
“What I realized was that until we control our own narrative, things weren’t going to get better. So, I said, ‘well listen, somebody has to do something.’ I looked in the mirror, and I said, maybe that somebody is me.”
Looking deep within himself, he decided to stop chasing the money, embrace a life of passion over ambition and utilize what the 48205 instilled in him.
“Growing up wanting to experience a deeper level of diversity, wanting to see something different in the world, really stoked that desire in me to be a student of culture and people-centric. Relationship building became my fuel, and I think it’s also the fuel of the world. Instead of apologizing for the weaknesses I have, I decided to play to my strengths by focusing on bridging the gap between how I relate to people and how I can use that to create opportunities for myself and others.”
This unique power to establish instant social capital with people of all kinds — to move fluidly between corporate boardrooms and neighborhood barbershops — enables Marlowe to make connections and see opportunities in communities that would otherwise be missed. Fluently speaking the languages of business, philanthropy, government, and community, he makes it his mission to turn those connections and opportunities into points of action. He relishes translating between Detroit’s myriad constituencies, driving home the importance of everything from ‘why bike lanes matter’ to ‘why certain groups of people feel disenfranchised or undervalued.’
It’s led to groundbreaking work on the Detroit 67 project — a national medal winning exhibit and community engagement effort dedicated to not just looking back at the Detroit riots, but forward to the future of the city and its people. And it informs his most recent work as the first-ever Strategic Social Impact Advisor for the National Hockey League, where he helps foster a love of sports — and all the healthy, vibrant benefits that come with it — in urban youth like the kids in his old neighborhood.
Through his connections, Marlowe sees opportunity and progress bubbling in pockets of whirring activity around the city. Everything from corporations and foundations to small businesses, like Avalon, and individuals, like himself and countless others, stepping forward; writing a new chapter in the city’s story.
In parts of the city, the pace of change has been so quick that, at times, he barely recognizes the town he once knew, “I remember when I went to Cass Technical High School, in what is known now as Midtown. It was the Cass Corridor then, and I will tell you, I wish that at that early age I had somebody who could have told me that all of those abandoned buildings we rode pass on the bus every day had value... and my friends and I should invest in it.”
However, when asked if he sees the city’s progress making an impact in his old zip code, he answers bluntly:
“No. It’s worse.”
It’s a recognition of the reality on the ground that only energizes him more. Because, although progress is good, Marlowe is passionate about helping ensure that all Detroiters share in the prosperity.
“For the people to fully realize and believe in the so-called comeback, we have to make it real for them. It can’t just be a narrative. It can’t just be another story about downtown and midtown. I’m hoping these investments pay off at the neighborhood level. That you start to see a city for everybody — not just a city for a few who match a certain profile. At the end of the day, all people want is a fair shake and equal opportunity. And I feel like sometimes it’s difficult because while you love the development and you love to see all the great things happening, you think about how much more need there is.”
It’s a need Marlowe believes people can fulfill by challenging the status quo and working together. He says, “individuals make Detroit what it is, and I’m one of those individuals, so I can take credit for making Detroit what it is. But so can the guy sitting at the bus stop. So can the bus driver and the guy who fixes the bus. Everybody plays a part and are just as important as the big names you hear so much about.”
Just like he credits individuals for Detroit’s successes, Marlowe is quick to give credit to others for his successes. With perhaps the most credit going to his hardworking father and loving mother, whose guidance put him on the right path from a young age.
“My father taught me, and many other boys in my neighborhood, how to be a man. He was strict, a great provider and tough as nails. He is probably the biggest reason that I survived the 48205.”
More recently, Marlowe thanks his wife, who grounds him and supports his entrepreneurship. As well as all of the other strong black women across the city who are selflessly raising up the crucible that is Detroit. Making it better and stronger.
But his final thanks go to the city and to the 48205 itself:
“There is something about being from the D. There’s something about growing up in a situation where, until you get old, you don’t realize you were poor because you had so much love and so many good people around you. There’s something about the magic of having to persevere and coming from a city of survivors. It strengthens you. It conditions you. Just like iron sharpens iron, it’s nothing when you run into a challenging situation because you’ve already seen it all here. Detroit prepares you for that.”