Born and raised on the west side of Detroit, Shirley Stancato, vice chair of the Wayne State University Board of Governors, was not only a first-generation college student, she was also a first-generation high school graduate.
“My dad was a construction worker and my mom was a homemaker – there were six kids – and I always say ‘we weren’t poor, we just didn’t have any money,’ because being broke is temporary, being poor is a state of mind,” said Stancato. “My parents always told us you can do anything – you can be anything – and they showed us the kinds of things we could be and put people in front of us we could emulate.”
Decades later, it’s now Stancato who serves as the role model.
After earning two degrees at Wayne State, Stancato ascended to a long career in Detroit as a leading executive, prominent civic leader and social justice advocate.
In recognition of her extensive contributions, the Urban League of Detroit and Southeastern Michigan will honor Stancato at its Annual Salute to Distinguished Warriors Awards Ceremony and Dinner on March 23. The Distinguished Warriors Award recognizes those who have made considerable lifetime impacts in the areas of civil and human rights.
“When I do work that makes the community better, it helps the people who are my friends and family, so I’m getting back in that way, and I feel privileged to continue to be able to do this work,” said Stancato. “I’m just so honored to be recognized by this organization, particularly because of the work the Urban League has done for many years.”
The Urban League’s mission is to enable African Americans and other persons of color to achieve their fullest potential. That work includes making sure all children have access to a quality education. Stancato says that lines up with her work with the WSU Board of Governors.
“Our focus is on making sure all kids can not only come here, but that they also graduate – that is the key,” said Stancato. “Wayne State has all kinds of programs to help close the equity gap, which makes me even more proud to be a member of the board.”
Stancato served as president and CEO of the racial justice organization New Detroit Inc. for almost 20 years before retiring in 2018. She currently serves on the boards of Fifth Third Bank of Eastern Michigan, Teach for America Detroit, The Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Zoological Commission, among others.
“Shirley has excelled in her profession to ascend to the highest levels of leadership in corporate and organizational settings,” said Patrick Lindsey, Wayne State’s vice president for government and community affairs. “She has tirelessly fought for racial justice and economic equity throughout her career. As a Wayne State graduate and an honoree of the Urban League, Shirley is truly a ‘Distinguished Warrior’ in every sense of the word!”
During the awards program, which will be held at the Detroit Marriott Renaissance Center, Stancato will be honored alongside Brenda Lawrence, retired U.S. representative; David Hecker, president and CEO of the American Federation of Teachers; Rory Gamble, retired UAW president; and Monica L. Martinez (posthumously), former senior vice president of national community affairs for Comerica Bank.