April 17, 2011, was the worst day of DeAngelo Hughes’s life.
His mother passed away from hypertensive heart disease, leaving six other children behind.
Hughes was just 13 years old.
“I shut down,” Hughes, now 18, said. “I felt guilty; I blamed myself for my mother’s death.”
Every day after school the Detroit native would go straight home and head to his room to “lock myself way from everybody.”
He did not know how to deal with the loss of his mother. He started to fail most of his classes and he said teachers did not sympathize with him.
He was no longer an A student.
But when he turned 16, things became much clearer.
Hughes started working with The Future Project, an organization that works through public high schools in seven different cities, including Detroit, to provide courses and coaching to help teens realize their full potential.
Hughes took a role as chief of staff, doing mostly administrative work, “I kept everyone together,” he said.
“He really stood out,” said Dan McIntosh, 28, the director of story from The Future Project. “He was always in background, never took credit for his work.”
McIntosh said when he first met Hughes at East English Village Preparatory Academy, there was something about him McIntosh couldn’t put his finger on.
“I knew it was something. I just didn’t know what it was yet,” he said. “He always wanted to work with people.”
McIntosh said Hughes was able to help everyone because of his past experience, which he eventually transported into his work.
Hughes said he got to know the teens personally and realized they were just like him—they shared the same pain as him and had some type of loss in their lives.
It was those reasons that motivated Hughes to do something.
On April 17, 2015, the fourth anniversary of his mother’s death, Hughes launched an organization called Detroit Flutter. Its mission is to help youth deal with grief and loss, teen suicide prevention, and other related issues.
“They come together to share their stories,” Hughes said. He also uses concept books to talk about different stages of loss and grief with them.
Hughes said his organization was inspired by Raenuka Reneau, who lost her mother around the same period as him. Reneau has an organization, the Flutter Foundation, that also helps young people connect after experiencing loss.
When asked why he used the word “flutter” he said the relation to a bird or winged creature was meaningful to him. “When someone passes they are given wings,” he said.
McIntosh said Hughes, who is expected to graduate next year, is doing something very rare, especially for his age.
“With that type of dedication, he can really build an incredible organization,” he said.
He also thinks Hughes is “filling the void” by providing a space for students who don’t know how to cope with grief and loss due to lack of resources.
“In the city of Detroit, people get robbed, shot, and killed, ” Hughes said, which was why he created a platform where youth can come together to get the help that they need.
Hughes is now raising funds on GoFundMe to make Detroit Flutter an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit, but he also wants to raise money to buy and build a website. So far he has raised $632 of his $2,000 goal.
In the meantime, Hughes is preparing for an event at a recreational center on June 30, where he will be with young adults to talk about grief and loss.
When asked if he is healed, he responded, “Yes, I’ve healed.”
“The obstacles that God had put me through, I overcame it. It didn’t defeat me,” he said. “If I share my story to one person, I know it’s going to change someone’s life.”