Personal Statement: Devoted to Detroit

BY ALEXIS SMITH

Published January 30, 2011

A hometown is a vital aspect of your identity, and most people have pride for some place that they’ve lived. However, some cities are difficult to be proud of. Detroit, Michigan is rich in American history, both good and bad. It was Michigan’s original capitol and the original home of the University of Michigan. As the birthplace of Motown, the center of the American automobile industry and a significant component of the Underground Railroad, Detroit has had a rich history.

Over recent decades, Detroit has gained a bad reputation among its neighboring cities as well as the rest of the country. A high crime rate as a result of increasing poverty keeps the evening news bleak. Every journalist and documentarian loves to expose the “struggling ghettos of Motor City.” It sometimes seems they revel in a crumbling city that once thrived. I am fully aware of its flaws. Some cities are difficult to love.

I was born in Detroit’s east side. I was raised on Detroit’s west side. I attended Detroit Public Schools from kindergarten to high school graduation. I graduated from Detroit’s most famous high school, Cass Tech. I received my high school diploma at COBO Hall. Regardless of my location today, I live and breath Detroit. Unfortunately, this is not true for many Detroiters.

Many locals have little to no pride in the city. I don’t blame them. How do you have pride in your hometown when the mayor is being indicted? How do you love the city where your loved one was senselessly murdered? It’s no wonder why many Detroiters quickly make their way to the suburbs. Upon graduation, I didn’t want to abandon my hometown, but it seemed unreasonable to stay in a city riddled with unemployment, poverty and crime.

It’s a shame because I have unconditional love for Detroit. Of all the places I’ve visited, I felt the greatest pulse from Detroit. With so many people living at or below the poverty line, the residents don’t have very much. They can’t go out to dinner or visit the theater or do other high-class activities as frequently as those who occupy the suburbs. In fact, many Detroit neighborhoods have close communities, and they find fun in less expensive ways. I recall as a child, the entire town smelled like barbeque on Labor Day. It was common to hear popular music filling the neighborhoods. There was a time when young guys (and sometimes girls) would gather together for a rap battle. Belle Isle in the summertime was always a party. These activities still go on, but due to rising pessimism and hard economic times, they are less frequent than in previous years.

For a while, it seemed like the city wasn’t as great as it is. Like many of my classmates in high school, I planned to leave Detroit once I entered the working world. Many wanted to leave Michigan all together, but I just wanted to move to the suburbs. The glamour of places like Grosse Pointe, Rochester and Birmingham drew my attention. Everyone who has lived in Detroit has visited at least one suburb (you really can’t avoid it) and knows how better looking they are. I remember going to a Subway in Dearborn with my uncle. Upon crossing the street separating Dearborn from Detroit, I immediately noticed the buildings looked better kept in Dearborn and the graffiti didn’t leave Detroit. Sometimes while traveling, I have to ask what city I am in, but I can always tell when I’m entering Detroit from a suburb.

I have also been to other cities across the United States. I’ve been to Chicago, San Diego, Sandusky and Columbus, but the trip that stands out in my mind is Houston, Texas. My first trip to Houston was in 2002. I was 12, and it was a vacation to visit my family there. I fell in love with Houston during that trip. Despite the unbearable Texas heat, I had a great time with my aunts, uncles and older cousins.

For a long time after that I had as much love, if not more, for Houston as I did for Detroit. This was until we went again in 2007 — don’t get me wrong, it was great. Yet, I was homesick. My family was with me on the trip, but I was longing to return home. Once our plane landed, I had a great urge to kiss the ground. My first thought was: “Other cities may be nice, but Detroit is where I belong.” I knew I loved Detroit.

Conversely, one of my cousins from Houston was here during this past winter break. My cousin and I decided to give him a tour of the city. The tour was a disappointment in two ways. First, we only gave him a tour of downtown Detroit. Though the great tourist attractions in Detroit are located downtown, it’s only a portion of the entire city. Detroit is more than just downtown. Second, my cousin, our tour guide, held very little pride in the city, and it showed in the tour. Nothing seemed great about the area. I had actually never been to Greektown before, and was in awe of how beautiful it was. It was like a miniature, Greek-themed Las Vegas, but my cousin made it as exciting as a fire hydrant.

This tour solidified what I already felt. Whether it’s Detroit, Ann Arbor, Seattle, Newark, Toronto, London or Beijing, everyone should have pride in his or her hometown. How can you expect outsiders to appreciate your home if you don’t? How can an area be so relevant to your life and you have no love for it? Whether you move around a lot or have been in the same place since birth, there is one place that has contributed most to your identity. That place deserves your gratitude. I would be a completely different person if I hadn’t grown up in Detroit. Therefore, in loving myself, I also love the Motor City.