Master of Urban and Regional Planning


/ Urban and Regional Planning Student

jøn kent

Detroit, Michigan

Degree Program

Expected Graduation Date
May 2025

In 2019, Detroit native jøn kent was living and working in the Los Angeles area and knew it was time for a change. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UCLA and experience in environmental activism, he moved back home to be near family. 

He’s had a busy – and fruitful – time back in Motown.

The former actor is not only pursuing a master’s degree at Taubman College, but he’s also addressing food apartheid in his hometown. He and a friend, Parker Jean, bought some vacant, city-owned land in Detroit’s eastside Riverbend neighborhood and started Sanctuary Farms, an organic operation that works to close the food loop by cultivating compost and produce on-site. The business partners, who have acquired more than $150,000 in grants, also recruited other startups to the farm, including a beekeeper, a compost hauler, a sustainable consultancy, and a bio-based materials and production entity. Kent is also active in the urban farm lobbying space from the City of Detroit to Capitol Hill, advocating for reparations for Black farmers and more resources for urban farmers.

In addition, kent is president of a startup nonprofit called Sacred Spaces, which aims to educate Riverbend residents about food sovereignty and land stewardship. He says the organization continues to buy vacant lots on Detroit’s lower east side and is creating a nature sanctuary. The long-term goal is to put a portion of the property in a community land trust to provide residents equity in the land.

“We are practicing the tenets of food sovereignty and providing examples of what can be accomplished and reimagined in our urban communities,” he says.

Academically, kent is pursuing a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from Taubman College. In 2024, he was named a Dow Sustainability Fellow and won a North Campus Deans’ MLK Spirit Award for his community development and environmental justice work.

In his 30s, and with years of professional and networking experience, kent is a nontraditional student who received the Rackham Non-Traditional Student Fellowship. Although he was accepted into other prestigious universities, including Harvard, he decided on Taubman College due partly to U-M’s vicinity to Detroit and also because of a pre-enrollment conversation he had with Lesli Hoey, associate professor of urban and regional planning. 

“I respect Lesli greatly for her knowledge and expertise in food systems,” he says. “But she is also willing to learn and understand things on the ground. I’m most impressed with how selfless she is. I just felt that, with her support, I would be alright.”

kent is impressed by the care his fellow students show toward their work and how it could affect people, other lifeforms, the environment, and society. But he also acknowledges the challenges ahead for the next generation of urban planners.

His advice for prospective students: Explore different disciplines to gain a broader understanding of what’s out there and what’s right for you. And once you’re in college, “take the time to venture out to see what others are learning,” he says. “There is a whole universe of knowledge at these campuses that you’d be amazed at.”