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Black Family Development's Faithful Shepherd

Alice Thompson

Black Family Development

Alice Thompson

Black Family Development

Alice Thompson


Black Family Development, Inc.

2995 E. Grand Boulevard
Detroit, Michigan 48202
With faith, hard work, and strong partnerships, CEO Alice Thompson helps kids and families in southeast Michigan handle challenges with a holistic, culturally sensitive approach.
Alice Thompson knows first-hand the responsibility of running an organization with lots of moving parts, one with many young lives hanging in the balance.
As chief executive of Black Family Development, Inc., she manages a staff of 90 people dedicated to improving the well-being of children and families in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and Washtenaw counties. Founded in 1978, the nonprofit family counseling agency provides culturally sensitive social services to local families, individuals, community groups, and organizations – and works to strengthen the communities where they reside.
The name implies an exclusive focus on African American families, but while that was once historically true, it's no longer the case. Currently, the agency is geared toward serving multicultural communities, mostly in Detroit and Wayne County.
While BFDI's primary focus is assisting children, especially helping them get a quality education, the agency takes a holistic approach to its work. Many of its daily efforts involve offering service and treatment to people.
By the end of the millennium, Thompson had taken BFDI from a “storefront” agency with a budget of $1.2 million to a major operation with a $20 million budget.

The agency helps families deal with things like substance abuse, mental health issues, and domestic violence. It also provides assistance to young people involved with the juvenile justice system and offers developmental programming to at-risk youth aimed at improving test scores and self-esteem.
Thompson relies on a large workforce of social workers, psychologists, managers, and financial people to make all this happen.
"Our staff are in the homes of families everyday, helping them negotiate and navigate their world," Thompson says. "We do outreach in the home. We're also in schools everyday helping students and their parents and teachers work with those major challenges that kids face in school.”
BFDI staff members often work long hours and many are on-call around-the-clock. Thompson balances this out with perks like flex time, long holidays, and weekends.
“I've spent lots of time making sure that staff would see me as a person of honesty as a person of integrity, a person of high expectations and a manager who is a giver,” she says. “You demand lots of things from staff, but … it is really is important [that they] respect your position and see you as fair and as a giver.”
Carrying out the group's mission also involves partnering with institutions like Detroit Public Schools and groups like Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, Living Arts and City Year.
The sheer scope of the operation requires a lot from Thompson, but she says she’s rarely stressed, something she attributes to daily prayer. Beyond this, she’s an accomplished administrator with a passion for her work that dates back several decades.
Raised in St. Louis, she moved to Detroit in 1970 with her son and daughter. Thompson came as a single mother leaving an
“I’m always engaged in things I think can help create the kind of change I want to see happen and ally with individuals in our community and our city,” Thompson says. “So I feel very empowered, because I’m so actively doing something to make a difference.”
abusive relationship and looking to get a new start on life. Her new beginning took the form of a job with the Model Cities Program, a federal anti-poverty program rooted in President Johnson’s Great Society and War on Poverty initiatives.
Thompson enjoyed the program’s focus on community engagement. This interest led her to getting undergraduate and master’s degrees in social work from Wayne State University, an institution she later taught at for ten years.
After college, Boysville of Michigan, a delinquent boys’ home, recruited her to serve as its first African American female manager. From there, she got hired at Diversified Youth Services as a deputy director.
In 1994, her good work resulted in her getting seven executive job offers in a year's time. A devout Christian, she prayed on what to do. Her decision to lead BFDI finally came one Sunday after a speech from an evangelist at her congregation, Straight Gate International Church. The evangelist told them, "God has sent me to tell you he has released you to go to the next level.”
“I'd been a deputy director for almost seven years and the next level was executive,” Thompson says. “So I took the job based upon knowing it was something divinely ordered to me.”
Inspired, she began pursuing grant opportunities with a fervor. By the end of the millennium, Thompson had taken BFDI from a “storefront” agency with a budget of $1.2 million to a major operation with a $20 million budget. The agency’s work is popular with clients as well, regularly scoring in the 90th percentile on consumer satisfaction surveys, according to Thompson.
Her success at BFDI also no doubt springs from her deep involvement with Detroit’s community life. She’s a member of the Detroit NAACP’s executive committee; active in her church and with Detroit Future City, a city-initiated visioning and planning effort; and works closely with the Skillman and Kellogg foundations. While these efforts have certainly opened doors for her, they also serve to exemplify a work ethic and can-do attitude that makes her progress at BFDI no surprise.
“I’m always engaged in things I think can help create the kind of change I want to see happen and ally with individuals in our community and our city,” Thompson says. “So I feel very empowered, because I’m so actively doing something to make a difference.”
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  • Black Family Development, Inc.
    BFDI’s mission is to strengthen and enhance the lives of children, youth, and families through partnerships that support safe, nurturing, vibrant homes and communities.


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