Detroit philanthropist to speak at Charleston breakfast

CHARLESTON, W.Va.–The President and CEO of Kresge Foundation and philanthropist Rip Rapson will be the featured speaker at public breakfast at Charleston’s Four Points Sheraton Hotel Thursday hosted by Philanthropy West Virginia and The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation.

The Kresge Foundation is a national foundation that aims to expand opportunities for vulnerable people living in American cities. Rapson has brought together and worked with community development activities in cities nationwide, particularly in Detroit. He said giving up on a city is not an option.

“A number of people when I first came to Detroit just threw up their hands and said why would you do this, just turn of the lights and go somewhere else,” he said. “I just think that’s not in our DNA. That’s not what motivates people to make their communities better.”

Rapson helped Detroit emerge from municipal bankruptcy in 2014 when he and the Kresge Foundation initiated a partnership known as the “Grand Bargain” among the philanthropic community, city pensioners, the State of Michigan and the Detroit Institute of Arts. He felt that West Virginia isn’t that different from Detroit. He pointed out that people tend to care in their heart of hearts about where they grew up, even if they may not act like it.

“We really care about these places that have formed our lives,” Rapson said. “In West Virginia I suspect, much like Detroit, people have left and chosen to raise their families elsewhere. But what’s so striking is how often those folks come home.”

Even though Rapson is not a West Virginia native, he is impressed by the spirit and toughness of people here, even through the hardest of times.

“I don’t pretend to know enough the West Virginia experience, but when I look at the resilience of this state, it’s just stunning,” he said.

In Charleston, Rapson will showcase similarities between West Virginia and Michigan, and how philanthropy solved challenges in Michigan which can be duplicated here.