Sometimes, if a half-truth is repeated enough, we start to think of it as fact. Look at any recent national news story about the city of Detroit and you’ll learn plenty about its problems.
It’s the same narratives over and over: The old leadership was corrupt and the new leadership is ineffective. The population has gone down while crime has gone up. The city is bleeding money and state takeover of the municipal government seems imminent. The buildings are burned out and uninhabitable.
I am on the planning team for the Detroit Partnership. For us, most of the media coverage of Detroit has only focused on what’s missing. Of course, understanding the city’s problems is important. But it’s not the whole story. I think it’s about time we focus on what Detroit does have — inspiring people willing to work for change.
People like Riet Schumack, an activist and community leader who moved from a comfortable Rosedale Park neighborhood to the more disadvantaged Brightmoor neighborhood. Since moving, she’s worked to empower the community through urban agriculture, public art and blight reduction.
People like Chazz Miller, an artist who works with the organization Artist Village, using the creative arts not only to beautify the city on the outside, but also to strengthen its people on the inside. He runs art workshops for the thousands of Detroit students who have lost art programs in their schools due to budget cuts.
People like Yusef Shakur, a former gang leader incarcerated for nine years who turned his life around empowering disadvantaged youth. As an author and community activist, he takes his story of redemption to others.
These are only a few Detroiters among the many that work tirelessly for the day they can see their city back on its feet.
Detroit is a city with a history of both triumph and struggle and an increasing divide with its suburbs. Built by the auto industry, Detroit is now fueled by an entrepreneurial spirit. Detroit is a city that’s motto translates to “We hope for better things. It will arise from the ashes.”
This motto originally referred to the fire of 1805 and the city’s subsequent reconstruction. But today, the ashes we see come from a very different place. Today we see a beautiful city marred by the forces of racism and deindustrialization. We hope for better things.
One day cannot fix a city. But if a fire can destroy a city in one day, maybe Detroit Partnership Day can spark a fire to bring it back. Detroit needs people who burn with hope for the future and passion for the present. People who will be advocates when the usual jokes get batted around. People who’ll choose to live in the city even when they’re considered crazy for doing so.
I hope you’ll challenge yourself to look beyond an occasionally rough exterior to see what so many have cherished about this city. Detroit has become more than just a place to live, it has become a community. Every year, we hear stories of community members seeing the work on Detroit Partnership Day and asking what they can do to help. Interactions like these make our work worth doing.
On March 23, be one of 1,400 Michigan students working alongside proud Detroiters for the betterment of the city. Work on projects ranging from urban gardening with Neighbors Building Brightmoor and the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative to painting murals in Artist Village.
Know that, whether you’re holding a paintbrush, a trowel or a sledgehammer, the real change is being made in the interactions you have with the community. Bridging the gap between Ann Arbor and Detroit through these connections is what service learning and social justice are all about. Be a part of that. See the city and gain new perspective. Meet Detroit. Detroit Partnership Day is just a beginning. Sign up to volunteer — on your own or as a part of a student group — at thedp.org.
Patrick Sier is an LSA sophomore.