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S2: Lisa Johanon of Central Detroit Christian #61

Lisa Johanon of Central Detroit Christian

Listen and Learn from the great Lisa Johanon, for 22 years she has led Central Detroit Christian to large-scale community change by building social enterprises, baking pies, and loving others.


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Romy:  Hey Everyone, my name is Romy, and I am your host for another episode of Bonfires of Social Enterprise. We have the incredible Lisa Johanon of Central Detroit Christian with us. Lisa gives us a brief overview of the ten social enterprises and how they have all held a role in the renovation of their neighborhood. At the end of the episode, we have a great song for you from Detroit artist, Malaya.  Before we move further, let’s see what Jentzen has for us in the fun fuel

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Romy: Hey Everyone, my name is Romy, and I am your host for another episode of Bonfires of Social Enterprise. We have the incredible Lisa Johanon of Central Detroit Christian with us. Lisa gives us a brief overview of the ten social enterprises and how they have all held a role in the renovation of their neighborhood. At the end of the episode, we have a great song for you from Detroit artist, Malaya. Before we move further, let’s see what Jentzen has for us in the fun fuel

Jentzen: Hey this is Jentzen with your fun fuel for this week’s episode!

I originally was going to talk about Detroit, and it’s recession but couldn’t resist talking about baking, as you get further into the episode, you will see why. So this week’s fun fuel will be on the history of baking.

During the middle ages, baking was a luxury that few were able to enjoy. Usually, only the rich and royalty ate baked sweets such as cake.

During the late 17th century, sugar became cheap to purchase. As a result, many people starting making pies with sugar and spices. And then came the birth of having a desert course with meals!

With sugar being more easily accessible, came the invention of the cake hoop and the cake tin along with other kitchen equipment to bake sweets. Schools actually started teaching pastry making at this time.

In the 18th-century, cake making became very popular, and the art of culinary was born. This was also a large credit to ovens becoming cheaper to purchase and many people having them in their homes.

In the 19th-century, baking powder was invented moving cakes from being made with yeast into being made with eggs and flour, giving us the cakes and baked sweets that we see today.

This is Jentzen, and this was your fun fuel for this week’s episode! Enjoy the show!

Romy: Baking, I love baking. And, guess what, so does Lisa. I have known Lisa for a while and I purposely asked her about baking because I know that she has baked goods for everyone from some of the local gang leaders, city officials, to her great neighbors. I love the thought of unlocking something in city government by bringing them a pie, Ha! So, as you drop in on this conversation, listen for all of the relational activities she has engaged in for the broader good. She knows it is all about the people!


Lisa: Central Detroit Christian is a faith-based nonprofit organization. We are this month celebrating our twenty-second anniversary as a nonprofit. We are committed to education, employment, and economic development, within economic development really trying to promote and develop businesses in our community to serve as employment opportunities for our underserved community and also for amenities that are missing here.

Romy: That was a fantastic synopsis, given how large your organization is.

Lisa: I try. I try to get that elevator speech as small as I can. I’ve even got the mission statement down where we’re transforming individuals while we’re transforming our community. It can get to be so … Twenty minutes later and people’s eyes are glazing over.

Romy: Maybe if you would … Would you mind stating the backdrop of the neighborhood that you’re in for those that are unfamiliar with this part of Detroit?

Lisa: Sure. Yes. We’re in a central Detroit community which encompasses several different sub-communities like the North End, [inaudible 00:01:47] Hill, Virginia Park. These neighborhoods have been chronically under-resourced for, probably, generations, I think. We do experience generational poverty. About seventy-six percent of our community area live below the poverty line. We have about a sixty-six percent unemployment rate. We’re an area that has been very challenged economically.

We have probably a very low graduation rate compared to other areas of the city also, where about thirty-five to forty percent are graduating from high school right now. That’s why we have just an all-encompassing approach to what we do, working with children all the way up to eighty-five-year-olds, trying to, like I said, transform people while we transform our community. There’s no quick fix. There’s no easy answer to anything that we do regarding working with people, regarding working with God’s people and the urban core, so businesses as well are the way we do it.

Romy: Yeah. Before we go to business, something that I know about you because we’ve regularly connected over the years is that whenever I think of you, Lisa, I think the word relationships. You’ve done a phenomenal job to take your time and build relationships in the community. Would you mind talking about that a little bit and how that’s, I don’t know, become part of the personality of Central Detroit Christian?

Lisa: Thanks for bringing that up and guiding me to say the right things. We’re very neighborhood focused, and we’re very much about living in our community that we serve. The majority of our staff live in our community, and that makes a difference. What we’ve done is we’ve developed relationships with our neighbors, and we treat them like they’re our neighbors instead of our clients, and it makes a difference.

You go to somebody’s house, and you bring a casserole because their husband passed away, or you pray with them. You know what’s going on out on the streets even before the police get there. You just have the advantage of being in people’s lives and being in their homes. You’re part of their family, as opposed to, like I said, a case worker or social worker. You get to know and understand what the issues are in the community in just I think a way more comprehensive way than someone who is an outsider coming in every day, trying to figure it out, and that makes a difference. I think it puts us a little bit ahead of the average Joe trying to make a difference in the under-resourced community because we’re right there with the folks, and we understand what the issues are.

Romy: It’s far different looking at somebody in the eye and having a heartfelt conversation than it is reading a report or reporting in and out for the day, as you just said.

Lisa: Right. It is.

Romy: You’ve been known to be quite the baker. You take baked goods even to City officials, right, to get what you need?

Lisa: Right. I mean that is my mantra. That’s going to be probably my final business that I develop before I retire one day Romy. It’s going to be called Bakery Babes, and we’re just going to bake … I’m going to teach young girls, I mean teenagers, how to bake. My specialties are sweet potato pie, key lime pie, peach cobbler, banana pudding, pineapple upside down cake and oatmeal raisin cookies … Oh, and pound cake. Just teach them how bakers can work. We’re going to sell it, and it’s going to be awesome.

Romy: Good.

Lisa: It’s going to be fun. It’ll be fun. It’ll be my grand finale.

Romy: That is so great. I have a feeling it’s going to go way beyond that Lisa. Let’s take us back because I know you didn’t start originally with businesses, but how did it start twenty-two years ago when you first arrived? It was more of a traditional nonprofit at that point, right?

Lisa: We focused primarily on education and youth programs. Yes. It took us a while to get your feet wet regarding housing and figure out how to work with the City and the government officials. Yeah, that’s how we started. Then it was probably ten years into that that we said let’s start a business. That’s where we went with that, and we took off from there. Your first couple times are not necessarily successful, you know. You run into a lot of telling everybody that. I try to tell people, but they come out with this perfectionistic expectation. My goodness, if you can’t understand that we have to have a culture that allows failure, then you’re never going to make it in business, so we did that.

Our first business was a recycling business. We collected redeemable bottles and cans. Here in Michigan, they’re worth ten cents, and that was great. We collected probably sixty-four thousand bottles and cans a month, but we found out it cost us more to … It cost us thirteen cents a can to collect these cans and sort them. It was a great job for teens. We were probably employing a dozen teens a month on a monthly basis, you know. We couldn’t make it break even, so we cut back, and we did all these business things, measures, to make it successful.

We got it down to eleven cents a can, but then we realized to be able to get to a break even point we had to collect about a quarter of a million cans, and I said that’s just not going to work, that’s just not going to work. Yeah, so we said we’ll sell this off, and then we did that to our … We sold it to our driver, and she’s been running it ever since, and it’s her business. She could make it happen, and that’s fantastic, but we couldn’t make it happen as a youth entrepreneur thing.

Another one we sold just this past year, a landscaping company to the manager, Craig. He has a very colorful past himself, but he jumped through all the hoops that we asked him to get this business. He did that, and he bought it on a land contract from us over the course of a year. At the end of that year, which was just this past year, he made a profit. I’m looking, and I’m going, “Man, we struggled to keep that thing above water, and here you take it for one year,” but it just goes to show you that when you’re the owner, you have just a greater level of buy-in.

He had to make some serious decisions, and he couldn’t always lead with his heart, which I have a tendency to do, and I need support. You’re always balancing between the head and the heart regarding business, or a social enterprise anyway.

Romy: I think one of the things that you’re not giving yourself credit for is you’re incubating the whole concept and bearing the cost of all of that, which in the real world you tend to be in a nonprofit place even as a for-profit company. Generally up to the first five years is very traditional, at least in the Midwest, so you’re somewhat incubating it for them and letting them train and learn and then giving them the business. It’s incredible really.

Lisa: Yeah, but I’m also a soft touch. “Oh, go ahead and hire this sixth guy even though it’s really not in our budget. Go and hire him because he needs a job.” Now Craig has to say, “No, I don’t have it in the budget.” He has to make those hard calls. That’s how you run a business, though. That’s how you keep yourself viable from day-to-day, so it’s a give and take.

Romy: You have several more businesses now?

Lisa: We do. We have ten. If you include Central Detroit Christian, that would be eleven, and we are bringing online two before the end of the year.

Romy: Would you mind running through what they are?

Lisa: Sure. Okay. We’ve got Café Sunshine, which is a healthy food restaurant. We’re just in the process of selling that to the managers becoming owners so that a happy day for them and us. [crosstalk]. Peaches & Greens Produce Market and mobile truck. That is doing well. It took us seven years to break even on that one Romy because we were in a recession and didn’t even know it. It’s hard to open and keep open a business under any circumstances, let alone a recession and you’re seeing going into bankruptcy and being in a poor neighborhood, but we are finally at break even, and that’s thrilling.

We are also … Okay, that’s Peaches & Greens, Café Sunshine, then the ground landscaping which I just told you about that we sold to Craig. Restoration Warehouse, which is a thrift store that focuses on home goods. Shadow of the Almighty Security Company, which is given men jobs doing security. We’ve got five guys who are doing that right now.

Romy: Love that.

Lisa: Faith, Hope and Love Productions, which is our two gardens and our orchard, which do produce and do bring in revenue. It’s not just a hobby. Then we also have CDC’s Farm and Fishery, which is an aquaponics farm. We’re just now converting over from tilapia to catfish, hoping that that has better sales or is a more attractive fish for people to participate or buy. We also have Solid Rock Property Management. We manage all of our properties, and we’re able to hire men who do landscaping, and we hire Craig for that, who do maintenance, which is clean out, and who do the management of collecting rents. We manage about sixty units.

Romy: That’s six-zero, right?

Lisa: Six-zero, yeah.

Romy: Six-zero?

Lisa: Someone just told me that all of our real estate work is a business too, and I said, “Well, we don’t call it that,” but I don’t know. Finally, we have Fit & Fold, which is our laundry where you can work out, you know fit, while you do your laundry, fold. That’s what we do. That’s been open a year now. What’s in the incubator right now … I hope that was ten. I hope that added up to ten. What’s in the incubator right now is City Kids Soup, where we’ll be doing a soup line. We have six different soup recipes and teens in our entrepreneurship program will be bagging those soups and putting them out for sale. They’ll be developing a marketing strategy of how we sell these packaged soups.

Romy: That’s so great.

Lisa: That’s a … Just a way to get kids and teens involved and gave them some opportunity to earn some money. Then our big venture is Pathways of Promise Pre-School. I know that’s a little bit of a hybrid regarding service, but it’s business. If you don’t run it like a business, you’re dead.

Romy: Right.

Lisa: We are licensed for sixty-four kids, and we’re looking forward to being open in January.

Romy: Wow, that’s incredible. One thing I wanted to hit on and touch on I guess I should say is your opinion or your perception of how when you started to add businesses in the neighborhood and create employment for the local neighborhood, how did that change your interaction? My sense has always been as you took me around and you showed me the areas that were still or formerly drug areas and gang areas, you and I talked a while a couple of years back about how that … It almost elevated the respect. Instead of serving, now you’re creating employment, and that’s a different conversation with the locals. Could you just talk about that, your opinions on that or what you witnessed there or anything?

Lisa: Yeah. I think it’s interesting that the places where we have started a business, and it kind of makes sense that the reason they went on business, was because they were in these drug infested areas. That’s why we were able to get these buildings. Did know that, didn’t think about that at the time. A couple of our key businesses are really in areas that have been known for having a lot of drug activity and a lot of different violent type activity.

We’re the strongholds in those places. It changed the atmosphere, but it happens over time, and it happens in different ways at each place. It’s that social mission that you have as a social entrepreneur endeavor that you weren’t even thinking about, but you’re creating safe havens for people in these areas of need. That’s what Peaches & Greens has become. It’s a community place now. All of our Block Club Presidents have a key to the conference room that’s attached to the store. They can come in there and hold Block Club meetings.

We’ve developed space for the men across the street who are just hanging out in the dilapidated old garage. We renovated that and built an overhang and picnic tables for them. Now they’re gatekeepers. They watch our store, and there’s just this spirit of gratefulness and appreciation, and that resonates throughout the community that you’re not going to mess with CDC because they’ve done this for us.

Same thing with where the laundromat is at and where the Farm and Fishery is. That used to be just a real haven for purchasing heroin and cocaine, right there at the Farm and Fishery, and that has stopped because of all of our activity that’s there. It’s not like we went out and said, “Police, you’ve got to do something,” although that would have been a good idea too, we just kept the area busy, so busy that drug dealers don’t want to be there. People don’t want to be caught buying right there, so they had to move their activity somewhere else.

We say commerce and business are welcome here, and we look forward to having them here. It creates a healthier community obviously. There’re times when you have to get ugly, and you do have to get in somebody’s face to get them out of there, but I’m willing to be that person if that’s what has to happen to lead the way. We’ve just got a mix and variety of people. We have to learn how to work with each of them. They also have to understand what our standards are, and this not how business can happen.

Our restaurant … I can remember when drug dealers kept trying to post in there, saying, “This is our table.” They’d buy Coke or some beverage, and they’d sit there, and then they’d wait for the cars to pull up, and I’d have to go over there three or … Because it was right across the street from my office … Three or four or five times a day to get them out of there, just get them out of there.

We’d been nose-to-nose on the street, and I’d be calling the police. It’s always a risk to call the police because you never know if they’re going to come, but I’d be nose-to-nose with them, calling the police, and they’d be calling the police on me, saying I’m harassing them at the same time, so it was just insanity. You just got to say we’re not going to tolerate this behavior. This community deserves [inaudible], and you are not the best.

Romy: I’m so glad you just brought this up, this issue of drawing boundaries. So many social entrepreneurs say to me all the time, “Well, Romy,” I’m going to fill in the blank, “Romy, if I’m feeding the poor it’s okay if they mistreat us. It’s just what we’re supposed to do.” I’m like, “Well, that’s not necessarily so. You have permission to draw boundaries for yourself and those on your team.”

That’s rarely talked about. It’s sort of we’re worried about offending others. The truth is that everybody wants to be treated well, and they actually feel safer with folks that are drawing boundaries because there’s a consistency there.

Lisa: Yeah. There was a time where there were We Hate Lisa tee shirts. I’m saying that facetiously. The people didn’t understand or respect the need for us to change the culture in this neighborhood, but I was just tired of living in a neighborhood where … This is almost a David and Goliath story, but we’d live in a neighborhood, and this is typical in poor communities, where wrong is right and right is wrong. The values and the morals are so twisted that you sometimes go, and you pinch yourself, am I the crazy one? What’s going on?

There’s a belief system that I have, being a woman of faith and being a Christian, that says this is what is right and you people who are selling drugs and who are abusing alcohol and who are creating havoc in our neighborhood and terrorizing people with your theft and with your assaults and fighting, we’re just not having that anymore, we’re just not having it.

Everybody is so afraid, so you’re in bondage to these people, so this two percent or this five percent of the neighborhood run everything because nobody will say anything. Somebody has got to stand up and say we’re not taking this anymore, but in a peaceful way, not like Walking Tall, like we’re going to come in there and bust people’s heads. We’re going to love you, but we’re also going to tell you that there’s a standard, and it’s respected now. It’s really respected.

I go into the park that we developed. It took five years to get drug dealers out of it after we developed the park for kids to play in. Now I go into it, and I say, “When are you getting out of here? You’ve been here a little late; it’s getting a little late here.” They’ll ask permission. They have a birthday party there or some event. “We’re cleaning up right now. Don’t you worry? It’ll be cleaner than you can ever imagine.” I’m going, “Okay. Okay. That’s what I want to hear,” where five years ago they would have been cussing my head off, you know, saying, “We don’t have to listen to you. We bought a brick. We helped build this park.” “Yeah, you helped build this park, but … I mean none of us built this park so you could sit in here and sell drugs, I’m sorry.”

Romy: Yeah. I’d like to touch on this one last thing. I feel, Lisa, I could do about ten episodes with you, but I’m going to just select this one last thing. When I hear people talking about your organization and the work you’ve done, they think wow, she’s so big, and they don’t realize that this has happened over twenty-two years. This has happened to you one day at a time, keeping the faith when it wasn’t so Hollywood, it wasn’t such a good story. It wasn’t all in the media as it is now. You talk about your faith and your persistence to stay the course.

Lisa: I think that’s the key. People have asked me that, what was the key to success? First of all, I wouldn’t say that we’ve arrived first of all. We haven’t arrived. There’s so much to be done that you’re always in a state of striving I think. If we want to say that by some means, that you’ve done well here or there, it is because of persistence and it is because of hard work and it’s because it’s faithful. It’s not … I guess my keyword … My husband says, “Oh, that’s your word Lisa, resilience.” It’s developing resilience, where you can stand up against anything that comes against you and you’re still standing.

When you do fall, you get back up. When you fall down, you get back up again. The next time when someone hits you, and you fall down, you still get up as opposed to being defeated or as opposed to saying, “It’s just too hard. I can’t do it.” You can do it. God didn’t put me here for me to say, “I can’t do it.” I need to go run and cry somewhere. That’s not to say there aren’t days when I don’t cry, you know, but you’ve got to get up each time when something knocks you down. You still have to get up, and you still have to put your pants on every morning and go to work.

I just don’t believe in giving up. Maybe that makes me partly crazy in some people’s books, but that I think is the secret to making it happen. That’s called perseverance and long-suffering sometime. There’s nothing we do here that’s rocket science. It’s just in a community, loving community, and being active in how you show your love.

Romy: Yeah. It’s evident. It’s evident. The neighborhood loves you. They feel loved by you. There’s a theme, if I could summarize, that’s surrounding local sentiment around you, they feel loved by you. That doesn’t happen overnight.

Lisa: No. Exactly. Thank you. I appreciate that.

Romy: I feel like I want just to end on that because I feel like you gave us this great drop the mic end there. Will you tell our listeners how they could look up your organization, maybe your website, any special media?

Lisa: You can look us up on our website, which is We have a Facebook page. We have all this other stuff too, but I don’t use any of it so that I couldn’t tell you. I’m sorry.

Romy: That’s okay. They can probably find it.

Lisa: Yeah. If they search, they can find it.

Romy: Okay. Hey, Lisa, thank you, thank you. I know you probably-

Lisa: You bet.

Romy: I know you well. I know there’s probably a lot of people outside your door right now waiting to see you, so thank you. Have an amazing day, and we’ll check back with you.

Lisa: Okay. Thank you so much, Romy. You have a great day too, okay?


Romy: Feeling inspired to do something in your community? I hope so. It is great to have great social enterprise ideas. In my opinion, this is the way, and it is here to stay, missional business. I would encourage all of us to remember that sometimes it is just about a key lime pie and some good old fashioned interaction and listening. Lisa, we want to thank you for the 22 years that you and your family have poured into the Detroit neighborhood. We also want to thank the unaccounted for thousands of you out there who are doing similar things. I know that you may feel unnoticed or small at times. Please be encouraged that you are very important to the others around you. Small beginnings create big waves!

Last but not least, here is another crowd favorite Detroit artist curated by Assemble Sound. Here is artist Malaya with her song, Drown.

End of Transcript












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