As a passionate advocate for people and the community, Cindy Eggleton specializes in bringing groups together and activating them around a common goal. She is the co-founder and CEO of Brilliant Detroit, a non-profit organization that helps create thriving neighborhoods for children between 0-8 years (belly to eight, in Cindy’s words). The organization she founded, along with Jim and Carolyn Bellinson, provides children with what they require to be prepared for school and ensure that they have a healthy and stable life.
Brilliant Detroit was launched in four neighborhoods in Detroit, and today it is present in 10 communities serving over 10,000 individuals. Brilliant Detroit’s programming has expanded tremendously, and the organization plans to expand its presence in 24 neighborhoods soon. What is unique about how Brilliant Detroit works is that instead of being an organization-led movement, it focuses on the ownership and participation of the people of a particular neighborhood.
By ensuring that families are connected and have what they need for their children to be successful, Brilliant Detroit seeks to break cycles of poverty for Detroit families. Cindy’s goal is to continue scaling the model throughout the city of Detroit so that by 2024 there will be 24 hubs working to impact population-level change and ultimately expand to other cities requesting to replicate the ‘Brilliant’ model.
Talking about her ‘backstory’, Cindy has always been driven by a desire to leave the world she touches better than she entered it. This journey took her on many twists and turns over the years, from when she started her career in psychology through her time as a small business owner and overseeing education at the United Way for Southeastern Michigan to her current work with Brilliant Detroit. “Brilliant Detroit’s work is my true purpose and combines everything I’ve done over the years to make a change at the neighborhood level truly.”
Cindy attributes her success to the neighborhoods, but at the same time emphasizes that their approach is to talk to the community to be invited in and to include them and decide what they want and how they want it. Brilliant Detroit mainly focuses on three platforms – education, health, and family support, “belly to eight .”Brilliant Detroit’s success has led people to ask them to be in other cities around the United States and internationally. It is all about putting people first and in the middle of what happens,” Cindy explains.
Cindy says about her 25-year-long career. There have been so many people and stories that have shaped her over the years. One truly unexpected incident that shaped how she looks at the world and sees herself was when they hired someone as an editor who struggled with anorexia and bipolar disorder. There were challenges along the way, but she indeed was the best editor Cindy claims to have ever worked with. One day she gave Cindy a very small box and told her the real gift was inside. When she opened it, she saw a note that read, “Thank you for seeing me.”
Elaborating her experience, Cindy says this gesture struck her because everyone wants to be seen and often suffers from labels that block views of what one truly has to offer. When we take the time not to be stuck looking at those labels but ask people who they are, there’s a much fuller expression of their gifts and strengths moving forward. “Once she brought my attention to this fact, I have seen it happen over and over throughout my career, recalls Cindy.”
Movement for Kid Success
When asked about her mission, Cindy explains that she truly believes that what she is doing today with Brilliant Detroit is about starting a movement for kid success where neighbors and neighborhoods come together to ensure that children and families have everything they need to be school-ready, healthy and stable. Focusing on the path of children to opportunity and success is indeed a poverty buster and her lens for achieving the best that she can. A kid success city means addressing poverty, racism, food and housing insecurity, and so much more. This is the greatest work I’ve ever been a part of, and I am so honored to stand alongside so many others on this journey.”
Advice to Other Leaders
“I would advise everyone to listen, be present, care, be direct and enjoy. I felt I needed to be knowledgeable in the past, but I have learned that the greatest thing you can do is “listen” and get all the knowledge you need because people know what’s best for them,” Cindy says. At the same time, being present is crucial for this as well. Even if she is in five million different directions, she knows that when she is with another person, she needs to honor them, honor the moment, and honor what everyone needs to do together. “Underlying all of this is care,” says Cindy.
A lot is being written about the power of love, and she thinks one should always lead with love. Being direct comes from a place of listening, presence, and care. It builds trust because people don’t need to guess what’s on their minds. One should be able to be direct without judgment because then they create opportunities for themselves and others to truly grow. Finally, we all forget to celebrate and enjoy ourselves. Love what you do and who you do it with. That should be your reflection point and North Star.
When asked what made a significant impact on her and helped her thrive, Cindy says she loves books and series on mind, body, and spirit; in particular, she has enjoyed a series on Tao. “I’ve learned from reading things only at a point in time, and paths weave forward like rivers.” Everything is not achievement-oriented. Instead, she works to clarify what she is looking for, which is often right in front of her. This has helped her recognize what she feels would be fulfilling for a life mission instead of a post or job.
“There are several quotes that speak to me. One, in particular, is by Rabbi Hillel – “If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am for myself (only), what am I? And if not now, when?” When she first heard this quote, it affirmed something that she had already been feeling about how to be in a community with others and the need to take action for what is right. She tries to live her life like that, going deep into what is the right thing to do and then being there. Similarly, the Four Agreements — ‘Be impeccable with your word. Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make assumptions. Always do your best” struck her as important wisdom. They helped her understand giving value and making sure she receives the value. “I now consciously check whether I’m able to give value and what value will happen because of that.”