A Passion for Healing Detroit: Meet Jodee Raines, New Detroit Inc.’s New Jewish Ally
Jodee Raines is New Detroit’s first COO (Jerry Zolymsky).
Jodee Fishman Raines’ journey to the new role includes leading significant organizational growth and transformation as a professional and volunteer at some of Detroit’s most prominent institutions.
Jodee Fishman Raines has a passion for bringing people together. In 2006, she helped organize the Tri-Synagogue Women’s Night at the Oak Park JCC. Women from Orthodox, Conservative and Reform congregations came together to socialize, have dinner and share ideas.
“We’re all Jewish, but with the different streams of Judaism, sometimes differences might tend to pull us apart,” Raines said at the time. “A Reform woman growing up in Huntington Woods might not even typically get to know a young Orthodox woman from Oak Park. We’re one people; there’s really a need for this.”
That passion for bringing people together and the issues of inclusion, equity and fairness in Detroit has led Raines to a new position after 25 years in philanthropy; joining New Detroit Inc., a racial justice coalition, as the organization’s first COO.
Jodee Raines outside the New Detroit Inc. offices in Detroit’s New Center area Jerry Zolymsky
Raines’ journey to the new role includes leading significant organizational growth and transformation as a professional and volunteer at some of Detroit’s most prominent institutions, making lasting connections and holding her values close along the way.
Growing up in West Bloomfield, Jodee Raines didn’t have a plan for a career in philanthropy. She graduated with a history degree from the University of Michigan but found out it wasn’t the most employable field.
Out of college, she got her start in philanthropy at the Skillman Foundation — in an unconventional way.
“I didn’t know what philanthropy was. I didn’t know what a private foundation was, and I found the job in the help wanted ads in the Detroit News,” Raines said.
Skillman was brand new, and Raines was its first-ever program associate.
“I learned about philanthropy and the nonprofit world from the leadership there.”
Raines then went to law school at Wayne State and practiced for a few years at Bodman PLC, a corporate law firm in Detroit.
“A lot of what I did there was work with nonprofits and foundations,” Raines said. “That helped build my legal understanding.”
Raines decided she wanted to go back to philanthropy, returning to Skillman after four years of practicing law. It was then that Raines combined her legal and philanthropic skills and greatly helped Skillman, whose focus was on children and families in Detroit, to grow.
By 2001, a job as executive director at the Jewish Fund became available, and Raines jumped at it. Her motivation for the move was to build her professional skills by leading a foundation while working with some of the top lay leadership in the Jewish community.
“It was nice to work in the Jewish community professionally and to work with and be surrounded by people that understood that side of me,” Raines said. “There was a comfort there.”
Raines helped refine funding strategies and strengthened the Jewish Fund’s reach beyond the Jewish community through personal and institutional relationships, improved communication strategy and diversification of the board of directors.
It was during her time at the Jewish Fund that Raines got recognition by Crain’s Detroit Business as one of Metro Detroit’s Most Influential Women.
The Jewish Fund was an effective place to build more skills and relationships for Raines and, though not the main mission of the organization, working on relations between the Jewish community and Detroit was a connection she kept within her core values.
After seven years with the fund, Raines left to focus on a primary passion that’s always followed her: Detroit itself. A job opportunity opened at the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, which was brand new in 2008.
Raines was the foundation’s first full-time employee and helped build its mission, vision, values, grants process and overall growth.
“It was a really incredible experience, and the skills I developed there that brought me to where I am today. I learned how to build an organization’s operations and actually be the one to administer that,” Raines said. “That’s why at New Detroit, I can help with the internal operations as well as the mission and vision.”
Raines served as vice president of programs and executive vice president of programs at the Erb Foundation, helping to adjust the program and operations as the foundation’s endowment tripled from $100 million to $300 million.
With part of its mission focusing on water quality and other environmental issues, the foundation allowed Raines to bring environmental justice to the forefront, “recognizing that people of color are disproportionately impacted by environmental pollution and other kinds of environmental issues, just like everything else,” Raines said.
During all this, Raines was a president at the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue (she is still on the board).
While president, Raines hired an executive director and a rabbi, which the synagogue hadn’t had in many years. As president, she was able to get foundation grants, building the budget and building the staff.
“It was an important place to spend my time because it brought together that Jewish side of me and the Detroit side of me,” Raines said. “It was one place where the two could come together, and I could take a leadership position and advance both of those interests.”
Joining New Detroit
After 12 years at the Erb Family Foundation, an opportunity to join New Detroit came about, but Raines initially wasn’t sure about the leap.
“When I saw this opportunity, I said, ‘As a white person, is this something I should do?’ I called someone on the board, and they said absolutely, we need to increase our diversity,” Raines said. “That gave me the courage to apply. The fact that it’s a support role as COO, not CEO, is a good place for me to be as a white ally.”
New Detroit, which was formed in response to civil unrest in 1967 that uncovered a host of entrenched social and community ills, works to fight racism by improving interpersonal relations, collaboration and policy.
New Detroit is shifting how it works toward racial equity, focusing on addressing structural racism in more tangible, measurable ways with a coalition of leaders from civil rights and advocacy organizations, human services, community health organizations, business, education, media and more.
“I think my experience working with nonprofit organizations and also understanding how systems work is what I bring to bear,” Raines said. “We have to rebuild the internal infrastructure of the organization, the technology, the processes. The whole world is changing around us, and we need to keep up with it.”
Working alongside CEO Michael Rafferty, Raines will help to redefine New Detroit’s future strategies and approaches to eliminating racism. Raines also plans to partner with other nonprofit organizations, aided by all the relationships made in her years of working in philanthropy.
In her first year with New Detroit, Raines said her main goal is to listen and learn. She said she hopes to serve as an inspiration to people looking for a way to plug in and help.
“I thought it was the perfect place for someone like me who cares and wants to do something,” Raines said. “A lot of people really care about this issue but can’t find their place. To me, this was the perfect place.”
Raines’ values have played an integral part in her own personal evolution, just as New Detroit is undergoing an evolution itself.
“I do hope people can be inspired by what I’ve done and the choices I’ve made in my life,” Raines continued. “I want people to think about the importance of always growing and changing. No matter how successful you are, you cannot just continue to do what you’ve been doing. But as you grow and change, you also can’t forget your history. It’s really important to be respectful and cognizant of your history and build on that.”
Walking the Walk
Andrea Cole, CEO of the Flinn Foundation, started with Raines at Skillman and has been a close friend since 1988. Cole said Raines is the perfect person for the role due to her personal makeup, which renders her a natural ally.
“Having known Jodee for 30-plus years and as a Black person, Jodee and I are true friends,” Cole said. “I feel like our relationship transcends race. She’s sincere and she’s intentional about learning and really making a difference.”
Cole believes people can be positioned to make a difference but not necessarily “get it” or understand the challenge at the level they need to, but she feels Raines does.
“She listens to learn, not to respond,” Cole said. “She has the skillset and the temperament to be open and receptive to do the job the way it needs to be done.”
Bob Naftaly, president of the Jewish Fund when Raines was there, believes Raines will help New Detroit move forward and is the right person at the right time.
“Her experience in running a grant operation, focusing a group on its goals and getting different organizations to work together in order to further those goals are her strengths,” Naftaly said.
Naftaly also understands how monumental it is that a Jewish person is the first COO of New Detroit, with all the Jewish history New Detroit has, including Max Fisher being its first chairman.
Naftaly also said that Raines’ living in Detroit shows how she’s willing to walk the walk.
“I think she chose to live in the city of Detroit as a statement of solidarity with the community,” Naftaly said. “A lot of people talk about helping Detroit and trying to be a part of Detroit. Well, she made a statement and moved her family into the city. It’s always been a part of her belief system to help others and to make the world a better place.”
Naftaly believes Raines’ new role is a “great culmination of her career.”
Naftaly adds, “We need more people in the world who want to help tikkun olam, and that’s been Jodee’s vision and mission as she helped us at the Jewish Fund and continued that at the Erb Foundation. I think she’s going to help reinvigorate New Detroit.”
Ideas and Strategy
Anika Goss, the CEO of Detroit Future City (DFC), worked closely with Raines when she was at the Erb Foundation.
Raines was Goss’ main point of contact on the work around DFC’s Land + Water WORKS Coalition, formed in 2017 to provide Detroit residents with the resources needed to become better stewards of the environment, as well as operate as a liaison that engages residents around green stormwater infrastructure opportunities.
“It was really her idea. She was the one who convened everyone, provided the funding but also encouraged us to really think differently about how we take on environmental sustainability in Detroit,” Goss said.
Goss said she relied on Raines heavily for the thought leadership strategy of the coalition and support during the process.
“I’ve seen Jodee take vague concepts that are unclear to everyone else and get it done — make sure all the voices are at the table and be really clear about what is needed to actualize a vision.”
Goss, who is Black, believes Raines serves as a strong ally in the fight against racism.
“She is certainly empathetic, inclusive and action-oriented,” Goss said. “At this time, for a lot of us who are focused on anti-racism and racial equity, having allies who are focused on being action-oriented while making sure all the voices are heard is how you get this done.
“All voices in the process matter to her, and when there are moments where people are excluded or where there’s a point of inequity, she does anything she can in her power personally to rectify that,” Goss said.
Eugene Driker, past president of JVS and a past board member of the Jewish Federation, is a neighbor of Raines and is fully aware of how important her appointment is as a Jew.
“It couldn’t be more important at this time,” Driker said. “Jews share important places in our society with the African American community, the Asian American community and with minority communities who are feeling the pain of being attacked by white supremacists, racists and antisemites.
“To have someone of Jodee’s stature take on this important position and a newly created role at an organization that’s been around for over 50 years is very important for that organization and for the Jewish community,” he added.
“It’s another indication of how active younger people in the Jewish community are in reconnecting to Detroit.”
Driker believes the values and leadership qualities that have carried Raines through her career will contribute mightily to her work with New Detroit.
“I don’t think she’s frightened off by difficult issues,” Driker said. “I think all of her different jobs have confronted serious problems, whether she was dealing with water quality at the Erb Foundation, or philanthropic needs at the Jewish Fund, or taking an organization like the Downtown Synagogue — that was very much on life support 10-15 years ago — and helping turn that around to being an extraordinarily dynamic and exciting place to be.
“She’s not frightened off by a challenge, and that’s what you need in leaders.”