In 2014, Madonna made international headlines by turning her attention back to Detroit and the roots she once left behind as she headed off for fame.
Four years later, the Michigan-born pop superstar still seems committed to the cause: Madonna is announcing a $100,000 matching-grant challenge for the Detroit Prep charter school as it seeks to move into an abandoned public school building on the city’s east side. The progressive elementary school is now housed in a church basement in Indian Village and is quickly outgrowing the space.
Madonna is asking fans and others to contribute to the campaign, and she’ll match their collective donations up to $100,000 through her Ray of Light Foundation.
“Detroit has such a special place in my heart,” Madonna wrote in a statement. “Kids in Detroit deserve access to great schools and I am happy to do my part to give them one!”
Detroit Prep, founded in 2016, is a sister school of Detroit Achievement Academy (DAA), one of the organizations Madonna visited and chose to financially support during a philanthropic tour of the city in summer 2014. At the time, Madonna funded art supplies for the charter school, while also contributing to the Empowerment Plan and Downtown Youth Boxing Gym.
She has continued to back DAA, including funding for that school’s permanent site on West Outer Drive. She also gave teachers 50 front-row tickets to her Joe Louis Arena show in 2015.
Detroit Prep serves students from kindergarten to third grade, with plans to expand to eighth grade. Like DAA, the school follows the Expeditionary Learning model, which emphasizes principles such as self-discovery, collaboration and diversity.
Detroit Prep, co-founded by DAA’s Kyle Smitley, purchased the abandoned Joyce Elementary School this summer. It has launched a $2 million capital campaign to rehabilitate the three-story, 44,000-square-foot facility, which has sat unused for about a decade.
“The idea of transforming an old, abandoned building in Detroit and making it the home of an excellent school is so exciting,” Madonna said. “Detroit is a community that comes together, especially for our young people.”
During her 2014 trip to DAA, Madonna chatted with students about books and danced with kindergartners, who later described her as “Michael Jackson’s friend” after seeing a picture of the stars together.
“It was one of the most memorable tours I’ve ever given, and that had little to do with the fact that it was Madonna,” said Smitley. “She was just extraordinary and kind and fun with our students in a way we don’t often see.”
Smitley said she was particularly impressed by Madonna’s continued interest in the school, including the donated concert tickets more than a year later.
“She could have easily given the money then forgotten we existed,” Smitley said. “It showed how generous she is. She’s excited when she sees people who work hard to improve the city.”
Raised in Rochester Hills, Madonna dropped out of the University of Michigan in 1978 and headed to New York as an aspiring professional dancer. Within seven years she was one of the globe’s biggest pop stars.
Her daughter, Lourdes Leon, enrolled at U-M’s theater school in 2014.
“Many people doubt that Detroit can come back and think that the challenges are too overwhelming to overcome,” Madonna said in a statement to the Free Press after her 2014 visit. “But what I witnessed is the true story of Detroit — a city of innovation, commitment, perseverance, imagination and opportunity.”
On the music front, Madonna is gearing up for the expected 2019 release of her 14th album, the follow-up to 2015’s “Rebel Heart.”
Detroit Prep’s fund-raising campaign includes financial partners IFF, Capital Impact Partners and Chase. Detroit architectural firm Gensler and Oak Park contractor PCI One Source are overseeing the building renovation.
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