'Do well and do good'

Noted actor/author invests in the resurgence of Detroit

By Kurt Anthony Krug
Legal News

Actor/author/philanthropist Hill Harper is fond of Detroit.

The Iowa native, 51, is fond of it so much that he not only bought Roasting Plant – the coffee-maker in downtown Detroit’s Campus Martius Park, he also has purchased a house that he is overhauling in the historic Boston Edison neighborhood.

“I’m just excited for the people of Detroit to come drink the best coffee,” said Harper, of New York City. “I’m also excited to be a part of the community.”

His first trip to Detroit was in 2007 when he was signing copies of his non-fiction book “Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny.” He returned a year later to sign another non-fiction book “Letters to a Young Sister: DeFINE Your Destiny.” In the last four years, he filmed two movies in Detroit – 2014’s “Parts Per Billion” and 2016’s “Destined” – where he lived for significant periods while those movies were in production.

“I just met so many wonderful people, so many great individuals who are really magnificent. I think the energy of this city is something that resonates with me. There’s a lot of creative people there. There’s a lot of people there who want to see improvements to the city, its infrastructure, its education system. There’s a lot of dynamic, creative energy there, so I think it resonates with me in a lot of areas,” he said.

Harper graduated magna cum laude from Brown University in 1988, where he double-majored in economics and sociology. In 1992, he graduated cum laude with his law degree from Harvard Law School. Also, he graduated from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University with his master of public administration degree. During his law school days, he met former President Barack Obama on the basketball court, where the two became friends. In 2008, Harper was initiated as a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Additionally, People Magazine named him one of its “Sexiest Men Alive” in 2004 and 2014.

He is best known for playing Dr. Sheldon Hawkes from 2004-13 (for nearly 200 episodes) on “CSI: NY,” for which he won three NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series. He was also nominated for this award seven more times for this role and once for his role as Dr. Wesley Williams on the CBS medical drama “City of Angels” in 2000. After leaving “CSI: NY,” he played Calder Michaels on “Covert Affairs.”

Recent roles include Spellman Boyle on “Limitless” and Chief of Staff Rob Emmons on the recent season of “Homeland.” Other roles include “All Eyez on Me” – the biopic about rapper Tupac Shakur – and this fall’s “The Good Doctor,” co-starring Freddie Highmore, a medical drama on ABC created by David Shore, creator of “House, M.D.”

“I’m very excited about this TV show… It’s a wonderful script about a surgical resident who has autism. I play the head of the surgical unit. Freddie plays (the titular) role and he plays it brilliantly. He’s a wonderful actor and he does a great job,” said Harper. “(Shore) is one best writers on television. He’s written an incredible show; I’m so happy to be a part of it. It’s a really groundbreaking show to have a lead character who is (autistic). I think it’s a very inspiring concept. It’s also very complex. It brings up a lot of issues and touches your heart. I hope it’s a huge success.”

Harper is also the founder of the nonprofit organization called the Manifest Your Destiny Foundation. It provides underserved youth – particularly at-risk 8th-graders and 9th-graders – a path to empowerment and education success through mentoring, academic enrichment programs, college access skills, and personal development.

“I’m bringing (MYD) to Detroit this summer. This is the first summer we’re bringing it to Detroit, so I’m really proud of that,” said Harper. “Every great major city goes through ebbs and flows.
Detroit is a great American city that is certainly on the comeback trail, but comebacks don’t happen on their own.”

Harper quoted Civil Rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

“But it doesn’t bend on its own. If you want justice, you have to bend it; if you want recovery, if you want economic opportunity and prosperity, you have to create it. My investment in Detroit is just that. It’s not someone saying, ‘Hey, Detroit’s coming back.’ It’s someone saying, ‘I’m willing to invest in this great city,” he explained.

A coffee connoisseur, Harper spoke about purchasing Roasting Plant, which he called a great opportunity. He originally invested in the company when it was founded in 2004 in New York. It opened its doors in Detroit in 2013.

“It’s such a fantastic company. I also like what coffee can do as an economic engine for individuals wherever they are,” said Harper. “It’s an opportunity to provide jobs for young people in the community, an opportunity to provide job-training. My motto for business has always been ‘do well and do good.’ Unfortunately, I think many people have perverted what the goal of business really is. The goal of business is not to extract every amount of profit out of an entity; the goal of business is to provide sustainability and do well enough that you can sustain your business, so it does well.”

He continued: “Pay people a living wage. Give young people job training. Give them an opportunity to work. We’re hiring returning citizens. We’re hiring individuals with so-called disabilities.
I’ve already given raises across the board to all the employees to be above minimum (wage), plus their tips. We’re doing it the right way. I want to show that you can do well and do good at the same time – in business, in capitalism. In fact, if you do it right, you do even better.”

Harper also entered into a strategic partnership with Dilla’s Delights, a specialty donut shop based in Detroit.  He believes that more businesses – particularly small businesses – have to find ways to help each other and the biggest challenge they face is cash-flow.

“(If Dilla’s Delights has) a wholesale contract with Roasting Plant, not only should I give my customers a special, unique experience by offering them these amazing, fresh donuts, it also gives (Dilla’s Delights) a set income stream… so it’s a win-win. I think more small businesses have to think about being smart and strategic and have to have strategic partnerships where we help each other. They’re helping me give my customers a unique experience with great donuts that complement the best coffee in the city, and I’m giving them that cash-flow order that’s a contractual guarantee, so everybody wins,” he explained.

Harper even helped three new donuts that are served exclusively at Roasting Plant. The first is called the Berry Gordy – named after the legendary Motown music producer – which is a vegan blueberry doughnut. The second is called the Big Sean – named after the rapper from Detroit – which is a double-chocolate doughnut with sea salt. The third is called the Hill Harper, which is a caramel, Sumatra coffee-infused doughnut. Harper’s excited to have a doughnut named after him.

“It’s such a unique doughnut and – apparently – it’s everyone’s favorite, so I’m glad,” he said. “Unless you’re vegan. If you’re vegan, your favorite’s the Berry Gordy.”

Harper explained how Roasting Plant coffee stands out from the competition. It has hot air roasters that roast coffee beans to specific temperatures that are relevant to the varietal of the coffee bean.

“Coffee has a flavor profile. Coffee is very much like wine. Different varietals have different flavor profiles. From there, you get different flavors. When you burn the beans, all you’re doing is cooking all the oil off the beans. What happens is you’re cooking out all the flavor from that,” he said. “Roasted Plant is the only coffee shop in the world where you can fresh-blend multiple beans. I can do a Sumatra/Jamaican Blue Hill espresso blend and end up with one of the most unique cups of coffee in the world. Jamaican Blue Hill is the most expensive bean in the world and it makes beautiful coffee – it’s among the best in the world.”


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