It Starts with Service.
Reno, Nevada, may hold the official title, but anyone who’s been here a while will tell you that Detroit is actually the biggest little city in the world. With just under 700,000 residents across a sprawling 143 square miles, Detroit truly epitomizes that moniker.
Those 700,000 people also know this imbalance is the genesis of the city’s best qualities and biggest challenges—but it’s also precisely what draws folks from around the world who see the potential to make an impact that will truly be felt.
More than 30 years ago, Nefertiti caught wind of that potential while living in Chicago and had to be a part of it.
“When I was 19 years old, I was an activist and very interested in the politics of Detroit. So, I got involved with a group that was working to get Coleman Young reelected at the time, and made way to the city when I could. I went to the Manoogian Mansion and it was so exciting. And of course, he got elected and the rest is history.”
Still splitting her time primarily between Chicago and Kalamazoo then, that experience—and the people she met along the way—convinced her that Detroit was where she belonged.
“I chose to relocate to Detroit to get deeper into the heart of the activist movement at that time—we're talking late '70s—and then, life happened. I got married, I had a daughter, my mom moved to the city. I just cultivated a life here.”
Soon her career shifted from politics to other community-focused efforts.
“For a number of years, I worked for a program called the Birth Project through the Operation Get Down organization, where I worked with midwives to help address the teen infant mortality and morbidity in the African-American community. Soon after, I took on some corporate work and then ultimately started my own business.”
That entrepreneurial journey started in Midtown, where she had a fateful run-in with another budding Detroit Lover.
“The local grocery store at the time was the Cass Co-op on the corner of Cass and Willis. I remember going there and seeing this woman on a ladder doing some work in this building that was totally empty and beat up. I walked up thinking, ‘Who is this chick? She seems like she's kind of badass,’ and said, ‘Hey, so what are you doing?’ She just turned and said, ‘Oh, my name is Ann and we're getting ready to start a bakery here.’”
The two became fast friends, bonding over their love for the city and their efforts to contribute to the community.
“When the co-op eventually closed, I was still working out of my home, but very much wanted to transition to a brick-and-mortar. So, knowing it was now empty, I approached the landlord about leasing the space. I had some good friends—Sharon Pryor and Dell Pryor—who had a gallery, and I spoke with Sharon about sharing the space.”
They eventually convinced the landlord to give them a shot, and began reimagining what the space could be, bringing in more tenants and naming it Spiral Collective. But the building was in rough shape and needed some renovations that exceeded their budgets.
“The space didn't have any windows at the time, so Jackie and Ann agreed to give us a loan to get some. Now, they didn't have to do that, but the culture of that block was very cooperative. Every business on the block was female-based, so we were surrounded by support. We ultimately took them up on the window loan and they even referred us to a sign maker, so they really helped us get that business up and running. Beyond that, there was a friendship right there, a kinship between myself, Jackie and Ann. I remember telling them, ‘You know what? This is going to be a very longstanding relationship because I consider you all to be my spiritual sisters.’ And that's the way it's been from there. It hasn't changed.”
Today, both that friendship and her business, Textures by Nefertiti, are still going strong. And even as the city continues to transform around it, that environment of support in the Midtown business community is unwavering.
“If I need some paper towels, I’ll just go across the street and talk to my friend that owns Flo. That's just the camaraderie that we have. We really are a business community here because we were the foundation of the Willis Street block.”
And though she values what revitalization has done for her business and the neighborhood, she acknowledges it’s not without its pitfalls.
“I really do appreciate the revitalization of the area—though I think there's a distinction between the conversation about revitalization and gentrification—because it's cleaner, it's safer, and we've got lights—I love all of that. Now, what’s disturbing to me—and this often comes with revitalization—is that you've got landlords saying, ‘Well, hey, you know what? We need to raise your rent by 100 percent.’ And there are many businesses in this area that have not been able to survive because of that. If you start off as a small business, you're not always able to scale up because you don't have the financial backing and support to do so. And that's a problem.”
Still, Nefertiti isn’t going anywhere—improving the lives of the individuals and families who call Detroit home has become her life’s work.
“The way I run my business is ‘people first.’ I'm very interested and involved in their evolution, in their personal growth. I have a business where many of the young ladies have been able to do well for themselves because I understand the need for young mothers to control their own schedules and financially provide for their children. I think it's very important that we as a community—as women, as men—are involved in our children’s lives in order to help shape their minds, because that's how we begin, in my opinion, to shape the future.”
In addition to taking care of her staff, Nefertiti knows that a great product is the ultimate service she can offer her community.
“Service to the community. Service to your customers. That’s the backbone of why you want to have a quality product—because you care about other human beings. You're working with some laws that are in alignment with the greater good; that are in alignment with folks who are striving to be the best they can be. So, if you stick with those good intentions, you're going to succeed.”
Indeed, building and strengthening the relationships with those she serves is what continues to motivate this Detroit Lover day in, day out.
“Relationships. At the end of the day, it's about the relationships. I always say Detroit is kind of like the country. There’s still like this old kind of energy here that is inherently Southern, and that adds to the feeling of community. Unfortunately, I see that getting lost as a result of this revitalization and gentrification, but for those of us who have been here and been doing this work—creating something from nothing—for so many years, that energy is still there.”