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Meet the Team: Nicole Sherard-Freeman, our Chief Operating Officer

July 3rd, 2024 Back to Browse Stories

Nicole oversees the Foundation’s donor services, finance, grantmaking services, program and the Detroit Regional Workforce Partnership and New Economy Initiative (NEI) teams.

We caught up with Nicole and asked her if she would share a little bit about herself:


Q: Where did you grow up?

A: I am a daughter of 48214. Growing up, I split my time pretty evenly between Northwest Detroit (7 Mile and Southfield) and the East Side (Mack Ave and East Grand Blvd.) I was an only child until I was 12, so by experience, I spent a lot of my time (nearly every day during the summer) at my local library or learning to build and take things apart with my grandfather in his garage. I spent a few weeks every summer between 4th and 8th grade at Camp Lutherhaven somewhere in Indiana. I also read a lot…probably far too much Stephen King during my formative years, frankly.

Q: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A: Before high school, I wanted to be a neurosurgeon. I remember making a sign for my bedroom door when I was 9 or so. I’ve always been fascinated with brain science, and I loved the way the word neurosurgeon looked and sounded. That was before I got hit squarely in the face by my 9th grade biology class.

Q: You get one song to listen to for the rest of your life: what is it?

A: This one was hard. Maybe Phil Collins In the Air Tonight. That song takes me back to some of the best years of my life, and the build of the drumroll never gets old. Only having access to one song also suggests some pretty dire circumstances, so I could distract myself from what would have to be the utter chaos around me by scenario planning the multiple situations that song could be about.

Q: What is your favorite movie?

A: Right now, Oppenheimer. The cinematography and writing was jaw-dropping. I enjoy boning up on history through film and art. The question I also want to answer here is ‘What is your favorite musical’. Hamilton. I knew all the lyrics 2 years before I saw it. In its genre, it’s among the most brilliant pieces ever. It never gets old. My favorite tracks are Cabinet Battle #1 and Cabinet Battle #2.

Q: If you could only have three apps on your smartphone, which would you pick?

A: Google, Amazon, and Apple Podcasts. This assumes, of course (and may be cheating) that I could access NYT Games through Google. I play Wordle, Connections, and the mini-crossword puzzle as my evening wind down most nights. To date, I’ve played 466 Wordle games, with a 97% win rate.

Q: If you could snap your fingers and become an expert in something, what would it be?

“Neurobiology and Biopsychology. I’m fascinated by the gut-brain axis—-and not just the connections between the microbiome and behavior. We’re learning so much about the structure and systems that make up the gut—-there are hundreds of millions of neurons inside, and we’re just learning about how and when those neurons communicate…how they adapt to our environment, modulate what we consume, and lead to health conditions that stem from those interactions.

On a simpler level, the literature tells us at least some human behavior is explained by our diet…food deserts, poor diet and unhealthy eating patterns. And to be clear, the political, economic and social dynamics that create those patterns could be one of the factors at the core of so many of the issues we care about. I know just enough to be dangerous on this topic, but here are a couple of reads/listens I’ve been paying attention to.

Q: Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?

A: Without question, Mayor Mike Duggan. As anyone who has worked for an elected official knows, it’s an entirely different experience than working for a non-elected. Add to it that he was probably born a prosecuting attorney, and is, in my humble opinion, a polymath, and you get a combination that is life-changing to have as a boss—-especially having worked directly for him through the pandemic. I’m far more thoughtful, direct, political, strategic, and paranoid about details than I was 10 years ago. Being cold-called (or at-risk of being cold-called) nearly every Wednesday for 6.5 years (at a minimum) can only lead to obsessive-paranoia about details.

Q: How do you define success?

A: Deliberately doing whatever you do for the benefit of someone other than yourself.

Q: What is your favorite quote?

A: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” —Margaret Mead, American Cultural Anthropologist. 1901-1978.