Stanford Wilkinson named Black History Month Game Changers honoree

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — Stanford Wilkinson, who was born in Detroit and attended Detroit Public Schools, saw firsthand the challenges of his classmates who were living in poverty.

Wilkinson said this made such an indelible impact on him that when he was in his mid-20s, he transitioned from a real estate and investment career into the philanthropic sector.

“My story isn’t one where I was sleeping on the floor or really poor,” Wilkinson said. “But growing up, I saw that. So this idea of giving back and trying to serve as the vehicle that can get students better opportunities and resources in communities that do not have anything at all was how I saw my purpose.”

Wilkinson founded Determined Exceptional Fearless Youth (DEFY) Mentoring Program, a nonprofit organization that provides access, exposure and mentorship to middle and high school students within the metro Detroit community.

“I am trying to help bring different resources to the communities where I grew up,” Wilkinson said. “It’s reaching back to take the opportunities and privileges that I was provided, then paying it forward.”

In honor of Black History Month, the Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers and Comerica Bank are celebrating Wilkinson as a Game Changers honoree for his incredible work of helping youth learn and grow through hands-on experiences.

“Under his leadership, Stanford continues to positively shape and inspire the next generation,” said Kevin Brown, director of community impact for Ilitch Sports + Entertainment. “DEFY is an important community resource, one that guides students towards their passions and achieve their goals.”

DEFY offers programs focusing on life skills, leadership, academic enrichment, financial literacy and sports development.

“Our sports programs are very popular, obviously, because kids like to have fun,” Wilkinson said. “I think our financial literacy program is also very impactful because we help students open their own bank accounts, provide them with a little startup money, teach them how to start an LLC and introduce them to business ideas.”

Building community and opportunity for all children is at the core of DEFY’s mission.

“I have so many stories of DEFY helping students navigate through tough processes and making the most of their second chances,” Wilkinson said. “Eventually, many of these students went on to graduate high school, finish college and get jobs.”

Wilkinson said it is rewarding to be part of students’ accomplishments.

“I’ve had so many students come back to me and say, ‘Mr. Wilkinson, you played a big part in my life,’” he said. “That’s one of the biggest things for me, which keeps me going.”

According to Wilkinson, DEFY’s ability to meet its mission and goals largely depends upon volunteer involvement.

“For our organization, social media is one of our biggest platforms in terms of recruiting volunteers and spreading the word,” Wilkinson said. “I’ve become well-known in my community, so I’ve built up a large network of people. There are always people who are asking what they can do to support the students we work with.”

For more information on DEFY, and how to support its initiatives, visit

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