BY CHANTEL JENNINGS
Daily Sports Editor
Published February 1, 2011
The foam nestled at the top of the green mug. It was my first time tasting Mexican hot chocolate, and I was told I must try it from this corner coffee shop in Southwest Detroit.
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I sat inside the warm building as people passed by the large windows going about their business. Some were carrying briefcases, others, all their possessions.
Sitting at the wrought iron table and brushing the cold, rough surface with my elbows, I brought the mug to my mouth. The hint of cinnamon in the hot chocolate surprised me. I hadn’t expected to taste the extra spice in the drink I thought I knew so well. I wondered why I never thought of putting the two together before. I sipped on my drink and made sure to thank the owner before leaving.
“Come back anytime,” he told me, his Mexican accent floating on his words like the cinnamon on the chocolate.
I smiled, turned and walked out the door. The burst of cold immediately made my eyes water and my body long to go back into the coffee shop. The wind whipped at me, even through my down jacket. In the distance, I could see the bridge that leads east to Canada, and I knew 40 miles west, my friends and family were in Ann Arbor.
I was in the middle of those two places, standing on a street corner in Detroit.
It is a city of circumstance built by the Industrial Age and torn down by the media. It is a city that is, as some people say, past its heyday and devoid of potential.
It is a city of boarded windows and empty streets, where vacant lots serve as a constant reminder of what is said to be the substance of the city.
It is a city where Martin Luther King Jr.’s name is given to a street where homeless men and women wait in line at soup kitchens.
Like all cities, there is danger and war, pain and death.
But there are also the musical undertones, environmental activists, political thought and social change.
And in the midst of all of this are 19 University of Michigan students studying with the University's Semester in Detroit Program.
They watch, from within, a city making strides toward improvement and reinventing itself.
What they see is a city that is unexpectedly welcoming and surprisingly unique.
Reaching out to the City
“Why do we have a student program in Washington D.C., but not Detroit? Why is it so difficult for students to meaningfully engage in Detroit?”
It was the fall of 2006 when LSA senior Rachael Tanner was sitting in Prof. Stephen Ward’s Urban and Community Studies course that she began asking these questions.
She had traveled to Washington, D.C. with the University’s Public Service Intern Program, she had been to Jamaica with the Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates, and she studied abroad in Salamanca, Spain, but never to anywhere else inside the United States.
During her junior year she visited Detroit through two of her political science courses, but didn’t have an extended stay, which limited her opportunities for involvement in the Detroit community.
For her final project that semester, Tanner presented the idea of an academic exchange program in Detroit. She envisioned a program where students took classes and lived at Wayne State University, where students spent 16 hours each week working in the community, and where students began to interact with the city she was beginning to understand.
Three of Tanner’s classmates jumped at the opportunity to spearhead the program’s development. She was joined by LSA seniors Molly McCullagh and Jaime Nelson, with whom she had worked with on an alternative spring break trip and an anti-Proposal 2 campaign, respectively, and LSA junior Aditi Sagdeo, who Tanner knew from high school.
Tanner and her team’s desires came at a conveniently fortuitous time.