Each time I told someone I worked in Detroit, I braced myself for the same reaction. Something along the lines of:
Even the classic, “Oh, interesting!” had a negative connotation.
Early on, I fell into the trap — a truth I’m not proud of. Would I be safe? Could I walk to and from the parking garage alone? I didn’t know, and, quite honestly, I questioned if I wanted to find out. In the months nearing my internship, I let people’s negative perceptions of Detroit spoil the excitement I felt for a great opportunity.
Fast-forward four months. I was at Good Time Charley’s for a friend’s 21st birthday. Due to that fact that I had to be up at 7 a.m. for my daily commute, I opted out of drinking.
While waiting for a round of Irish car bombs, a guy struck up conversation with me.
“You said you’re working tomorrow. Where do you work?”
I explained to him that I was interning with a startup company in Detroit called Stik.
He raised his eyebrows, recoiled, and said something along the lines of, “Not the best place to be right now, huh?”
I grew defensive. I worked in Detroit. I didn’t have the plague and certainly didn’t need his pity. I sputtered back that it is, in fact, a great place to be. I began calling on positives: how much Quicken Loans chairman Dan Gilbert is doing to fuel Detroit’s growth, the incredible set that was in the process of being built for “Transformers 4,” and how my one-hour commute takes at the very least two hours on days that the Tigers play at home.
Surprised and slightly uncomfortable after my unanticipated rant, he changed the subject back to the Irish car bombs now sitting on the table.
As I watched the group chug whiskey-tainted beer, I realized that was the first time I had become anywhere near that defensive for Detroit. In that moment I thought, “Did I just become a ‘Detroiter?’ ”
I fell in love with Detroit this summer: the history, the culture, the energy. Many mornings I walked by the same charming old men playing chess outside of a little coffee shop on Broadway St. “Good morning, miss,” they’d say.
Detroit provided me with an incredible opportunity to learn. My coworkers, many of whom would walk or bike to the office from their downtown Detroit apartments, are motivated, hardworking and passionate. Having chosen to move the company from tech-mecca San Francisco to the Motor City, Stik’s co-founders are in Detroit because they want to be. The rest of us followed, excited to pursue an idea in a place in need of revival.
But it would be slanted to deny the reality that Detroit faces on a daily basis. In filing for bankruptcy, the once automotive leader and music capital became our country’s largest-ever municipal bankruptcy case. The near future for Detroit is unquestionably bleak as it seeks to restructure billions in debt — not to mention its persistent struggle to gain control over staggering crime rates and statistics.
All things considered, I can’t blame people for being skeptical about the city and my eagerness to work there. It’s the media’s responsibility to deliver coverage, and right now, what’s happening in Detroit is largely negative. Downbeat headlines about the bankruptcy, violence and poverty overpower positive steps, such as the opening of a Whole Foods on Mack Ave. and the summertime revamp of Campus Martius.
I do blame people for not giving Detroit a chance.
If you look closely enough, you’ll see positive messages all over the city: on posters and billboards, in shop windows and on T-shirts. A few include “Nothing Stops Detroit,” “Detroit vs. Everybody” and, my favorite, “Detroit Moves Me.” These circulated sayings are proof that I’m one of the many who are hopeful for the city’s renewal. I can only hope that people go to the city to form their own opinion, rather than avoid it because of stigmas. My guess is that you’ll love what you find.
Sara Morosi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.