They buildOn: Alum Donavan McKinney Motivated to Serve by Personal Experience

Growing up in the city of Detroit, Donavan McKinney recognized that he wasn’t “supposed” to “make it.” He knew statistics showed that as a young African American male in the inner-city he was more likely to use drugs, be involved in gang violence, or be imprisoned, then graduate from college.

But, some of Donavan’s friends in high school were a part of buildOn and he saw the amazing things they were doing to improve his community. Then, one of his friends traveled to Mali to help build a school. Donavan said that he was “astonished to see that students our age could go and do service in another country.” It was during that time that Donavan decided he wasn’t going to be just another statistic and got involved in buildOn instead.

“buildOn provided me with a positive outlet to do something greater than myself,” said Donavan. “It gave me the opportunity and the confidence to be a better person while giving back to my community and others in the process.”

Today, Donovan is a graduate of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and a Legislative Director in the Michigan State House of Representatives.

We asked Donavan to tell us a little bit about his experience with buildOn.

buildOn city: Detroit, Michigan

Alumni Status: 2010 Renaissance High School graduate

Years in the buildOn movement: 10 years

How did you get interested in community service?

I had this motivation to (make a change), because no one else was going to do it. I didn’t grow up with a lot. My family and I were always living under the poverty line. I felt like other families, especially in my own neighborhood, were going through the same things. I realized that no one was going to help us out. I realized I had to do everything I can.

How did buildOn change your life?

The experience of trek was amazing. It was one of the best experiences of my life. It really changes your perspective on life. It made me be more grateful and not take things for granted. When I came home from trek I ran upstairs and I kissed my toilet. I was so crazy. A running water system: they don’t have that in Nicaragua.

How has buildOn made a difference in your city?

It partners up with every organization I can think of. I remember doing some community service at the Detroit Veteran’s Center about every year I was there. They have a soup kitchen where we passed out food.  [Volunteers are involved with] planting trees, making Detroit more beautiful, painting murals, cleaning parks, going to senior citizens homes and talking to seniors who want to talk and don’t have anyone to talk to. buildOn is just there when the city needs it.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

I have this whole plan where I want to probably run for political office one day. I feel like my whole goal is to make change through policy, maybe at the state level as a state representative; I feel that’s how to make major change in Detroit. I want to do something tied to the community because once you get to the Federal level a lot of people get in the way.