Detroit’s LOVE Building welcomes Kwaku Osei as new executive director

Health, wealth, and love are at the forefront of Kwaku Osei’s vision for leading The LOVE Building.

The nonprofit organization nestled in Detroit’s Core City neighborhood recently announced Osei is its new executive director, carrying forward the work of founding executive director and former Allied Media Projects executive director Jeanette Lee.

Now just three months into his position, Osei says it has been lovely to join a group of people who are driven and intentional about doing their best for the betterment of the community.

Allied Media Projects (AMP) has made a significant investment of over $4 million in the LOVE Building, which serves as the home for six organizations, including AMP, Detroit Community Technology Project, Detroit Disability Power, Detroit Justice Center, and Detroit Narrative Agency. This collaborative hub spans five floors, each dedicated to fostering social justice, community creativity, and health initiatives. By design, the building prioritizes accessibility and inclusivity, and is gearing up to launch its public programming in the coming months.

Osei, who describes himself as an “economic freedom fighter,” brings a unique perspective to the space with a background in community economic development.

click to enlarge Kwaku Osei. - Courtesy of the LOVE Building

Courtesy of the LOVE Building

Kwaku Osei.

While originally from Virginia, he has primarily lived in Detroit since 2013, first moving to the city for a fellowship with Venture for America. He says when he visited Detroit for the first time just two years earlier in 2011, he was “shocked” at how empty it was. By the time he relocated, however, the city was already on its way up.

Since then, Osei has had plenty of experience in Detroit, working on various projects with Dan Gilbert and engaging in many other community initiatives. In the past decade, he founded Farmacy Food, a preventative healthcare startup focused on making health and wellness radically accessible and affordable, as well as Cooperative Capital, a financing initiative that enables residents to pool their money for collective investments in their neighborhoods.

Additionally, Osei currently serves on the boards of the Economic Development Corporation of the City of Detroit, Fair Food Network, the Detroit Community Wealth Fund, Detroit Afrikan Music Institute, and Bridging Communities, Inc.

He plans to use these Detroit experiences in his new role at the LOVE Building, while finding ways to make money through positive, impactful avenues.

“I find myself in an organization that’s almost the ideal vehicle to be able to implement a number of those things and I’m just super elated because we get to give it a go,” Osei says. “There’s no guarantee, but based on everything that I’ve learned over these last eight years, and then everything I know in the past, I have confidence in our ability to really shift paradigms, and to really demonstrate what’s possible through this type of experimentation. I think I want the results to show for themselves, but I’m extremely excited.”

In his position as executive director, Osei will help actualize the organization’s core missions through strategic coordination, fundraising efforts, and connecting with the community.

“Other than us just being the home to six great organizations, I’m really trying to increasingly evolve this into a space that becomes a container, really a lab, for experimentation, that will really support us to not only push the boundaries on the community rooted economic development, but a lot of the initiatives and a lot of the programming that you’re going to see come out of this building is going to be based around health, wealth and love,” Osei says. “That’s all about really pushing the boundary for what community rooted economic development as well as community control and ownership looks like in this city. I think that once we’ve demonstrated it in this city, we will be creating a precedent or a model that a lot of cities are very interested in following.”

While his startup company Farmacy Food is no longer operating, Cooperative Capital continues to thrive. Osei is optimistic about potential collaborations between Cooperative Capital and the LOVE Building for programming initiatives surrounding economic development.

When it comes to his leadership style, Osei feels that it’s important to emphasize his focus on economics, as he hopes to help afford other people the opportunity to become financially free, as he considers himself to be.

“I think that should more folks be in that position, they would also then be able to dedicate their time, attention, and energy towards the things that are most important to them,” Osei says. “We are at a level of development in the world where there’s truly more than enough for everyone… It’s obscene amounts of wealth and from a development perspective, the fact that there’s a tremendous amount of people struggling, it just is no longer a necessity. So, a lot of what you will see coming out of this space is going to be things around both wealth and love. There’s going to be emphasis on wealth because I think that once people are put in a position where they’re no longer struggling on a week to week basis, it affords them to then be able to experiment in ways that I got to experiment and even when those experiments don’t work, you get to learn something.”

Interior of The LOVE Building. - Photo by Steve Hall, courtesy of Hall+Merrick+McCaugherty

Photo by Steve Hall, courtesy of Hall+Merrick+McCaugherty

Interior of The LOVE Building.

Former executive director Jeanette Lee describes Osei’s leadership as a “rare” combination of “visionary” and “collective.”

“Kwaku brings a wealth of relationships and experiences within the community development sector of Detroit to this role,” Lee said in a news release. “I am thrilled to be transitioning this next phase of growth of the LOVE Building to him and am confident that he will facilitate a most beautiful iteration.”

While Osei says he didn’t know much about Lee before starting his position, he reminisces on the time he got to spend with her soaking up knowledge to prepare for taking over the role.

“She’s a champion. I feel very, very, very fortunate,” Osei says. “She had basically dedicated her adult life until now to this organization, and we got five weeks together, and they were some of the richest five weeks.”

In the coming months, the LOVE Building will start to grow its public programming for the surrounding community ahead of a public grand opening the week of Labor Day from Sept. 3-6.

While plans for a plant-based eatery in the space have shifted, the organization is still exploring food possibilities for its white box restaurant space. Following the official opening, a detailed event calendar for the rest of the year will be released, Osei says.

“Allied Media Projects has a tradition of pushing the boundaries and breaking barriers down and I’m excited that I get to join an organization that has that history and tradition baked into it,” Osei says. “I get to add my little piece on to it at this point in its chapter, in its evolution, and a lot of that is going to be around economic empowerment, a lot of that is going to be around really supporting social justice advocates to be well resourced and coordinated in a way that I think will allow for a more tremendous and positive impact. I’m just geeked because it’s me with a bunch of other really, really, really beautiful, motivated and driven people that get to do this work together.”

In essence, the new executive director aims to prioritize actions over words, emphasizing that the impact of both his leadership and the organization’s efforts will be visible to all as they unfold.

“I don’t take for granted the privilege that I get to basically spend my time and get paid to just put on for the community and to empower others. It’s the richest thing that I think one can be employed to do and I don’t take the responsibility lightly,” Osei says. “I want to intertwine a number of the worlds that exist in this city so that we all recognize that we all come from different backgrounds, we’re all different peoples, but we are all connected and in a lot of ways we desire a lot of similar things. We could do this together, and if we do it together in this way, then we can all get there. It can be beautiful for us all.”

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