Kenneth Donaldson named Black History Month Game Changers honoree

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT – Kenneth Donaldson is a lifelong Detroit resident who has dedicated more than 40 years to philanthropy, mentorship and community organizing, and he currently serves as the president and CEO of Black United Fund of Michigan (BUF).

The Western Michigan University alum studied engineering but realized sitting at a drafting board wasn’t what he wanted to do with his life, so he got involved with BUF in 1979.

The organization was originally created to provide seed money to up-and-coming nonprofits like the Charles H. Wright Museum, the Detroit Youth Choir and many more. When Donaldson became president in 2010, he decided it was time for a change.

“We evolved from a funding organization to a youth empowerment organization,” Donaldson said. “And now, our focus is providing programs for underserved and underrepresented youth in Michigan and metro Detroit.”

BUF is now involved with Wayne State University’s School of Medicine, aviation programs, a blue-collar training program in partnership with the Ford Fund, financial literacy programs with the Federal Reserve and many more, including photography, figure skating and chess.

“We call it our four E’s: exposure, experience, education and empower,” Donaldson said. “We start off with creating programs to expose the youth to career opportunities that they don’t even know exist and then we give them education and experience and empower them to go forward and be successful in life. We believe that every youth has greatness in them; our job is to help them discover it.”

Donaldson is the first 2024 honoree of the Game Changers series, which celebrates community members making a profound difference for youth in Detroit. In partnership with Comerica Bank, the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers will recognize one Game Changers honoree per week during select months throughout the year to receive a $1,000 grant dedicated to the charity of their choice.

“We’re honored to recognize Kenneth Donaldson as a Game Changers award recipient for his continued work to empower children in Michigan,” Kevin Brown, director of community impact at Ilitch Sports + Entertainment, said. “Similar to our organization’s impact mission, Kenneth and Black United Fund of Michigan are delivering access and opportunities that inspire kids to dream big every day in communities across the state.”

Donaldson said that after many years with BUF, he saw a lot of successful stories in which companies were giving seed money directly to nonprofits. That’s when he decided the organization needed a clear path for the future.

Looking at the success of his own three children and growing up in Detroit, he wanted to ensure metro Detroit kids who may be in difficult environments had access to programs they may not otherwise consider.

BUF has more than 20 different youth programs as of 2024, and while Donaldson is the one receiving the Game Changers honor, he credits all those who make the programs successful.

“There are thousands of worthy organizations out there, but for us to be selected, we count it as a major blessing,” Donaldson said. “The key word is ‘we.’ I don’t want to be recognized for just me. If this organization continues to change lives and make a difference, calling my name is not important, it’s the success and growth of the organization helping young people.

“To receive this award after 40 years of commitment, labor, dedication and serving; this is not a job, I call it a ministry because you know we must serve our community. For the Red Wings and Tigers to choose me to be recognized with this award, it’ll be something I’ll never forget. We work hard and we commit ourselves to a cause. At the end of the day, feeling appreciative for all that hard work makes this award even more special to me.”

To learn more about Black United Fund of Michigan, visit bufmi.org/.

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