More than a dozen Detroit high schoolers descended on the University of Michigan’s campus Monday afternoon for more than an average Campus Day tour. Members of PILOT, a student organization that works with first-generation and underrepresented students, showed the prospective students around campus on Monday as part of Dreams2Reality, an event offering college planning assistance and empowerment to high school freshmen and sophomores from underrepresented minority backgrounds.

LSA freshman Ihunanya Muruako is PILOT’s financial director and a Dreams2Reality committee member. She said one of the goals of the program is helping the students learn more about social justice while helping them “get accustomed to college.”

“We just hope that a lot of the conversations that we have are more in-depth and get them thinking about themselves,” Muruako said.

Muruako got involved with PILOT through the Big House Program, which helps selected prospective students from underrepresented backgrounds navigate the University’s undergraduate application process.

“We hope they get more comfortable having conversations regarding social justice so that they’re able to bridge the gap within their communities because Detroit is a very segregated place,” Muruako said. “A lot of Arab people live in Dearborn, a lot of Latinx people are in southwest Detroit and Black people are throughout the city, so we hope that these communities come together rather than just staying in their own areas.”

Attendee Jennifer Penaloza is a sophomore at Detroit Cristo Rey High School. Having never visited the University before, Penaloza said she enjoyed the campus, and the social justice aspect of Dreams2Reality appealed to her.

“I just joined it because I was interested in the social justice part of it,” Penaloza said. “I thought it would be cool to go and talk about that stuff with other people who are interested in it as well.”

Keynote speaker Shawn Blanchard, a Detroit native and a University alum, talked to the group after their campus tour about achieving financial success.

“Who wants to be a millionaire?” he asked the students. Everyone, including the PILOT volunteers, raised their hands. The average millionaire, he told them, has seven streams of income.

Blanchard said he has six streams of income, as an author, the style adviser of a suit company, a motivational speaker, a proprietor of online courses for aspiring writers, the owner of a publishing company and the founder of a fitness movement, Run This Town/Networkingout.

“So if I ask you what you want to be, sometimes we can raise our hand and say one thing, but I’ll tell you guys this — that doesn’t have to limit you,” Blanchard said. “I’ll tell you guys, you guys can do anything you want to, and not only can you do anything you want to, it doesn’t matter where you're from either.”

Blanchard said his mother often had drugs in her system while she was pregnant with him, and of his seven brothers, Blanchard said, three have passed away and three are incarcerated. Even as a student at the University, Blanchard said he was “very non-traditional.”

“I had to raise my younger brother myself,” Blanchard said. “I actually brought him up here to the University of Michigan, once he got out of juvenile, that is. I was here at the University of Michigan, working three jobs, raising a younger brother, had a girlfriend living with me, majoring in mathematics and economics … Just like I have multiple streams of income now, I had multiple issues that I had to work through.”

After graduating in 2005, Blanchard moved to New York City, earned a master's degree in secondary math education and founded a mentorship program for young men.He later moved back to Detroit and Mayor Mike Duggan appointed him director of Youth Services in 2014. In the role, Blanchard oversaw youth initiatives and worked with local businesses to created 5,600 summer jobs for young people in the city. Blanchard has since received former President Barack Obama’s Volunteer Community Service Award and been profiled by CNN.

“That means no matter what you’re going through, wherever you’re from, whatever is going on at home, at the end of the day you can do anything, and as I’m standing here right before you right now, that’s proof of doing it,” Blanchard said. “And as you guys are sitting here right in this room right now, that’s proof that you guys can do it, too.”

Student organizations have been on the vanguard of pipelining high schoolers from underrepresented backgrounds to the University. While the Go Blue Guarantee focuses on class disparities with guaranteed tuition and progrmas like Wolverine Pathways target specific school districts, PILOT's programming intentionally recruits students of color, but from all over the Midwest. 

LSA senior Antonio Gallegos told The Daily last August the program was instrumental in closing culturally-specific information gaps.

“I didn’t even really think Michigan was a possibility for me,” he said. I’m a first generation student so I didn’t know anything. The Big House really gave me the resources necessary to apply and not only apply, but once I came here even at my orientation people within PILOT, the student organization, were reaching out to me.”

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