“This is an exciting time to be in Detroit,” said Grace Lee Boggs, a 94-year-old activist. “We’re engaged in creating something new.”

As I sat in the dimly-lit upstairs of the Boggs Center, where many social justice activists had sat before me, I looked to the other participants of Semester in Detroit and saw women who were as deeply moved and inspired by Grace’s words as I was.

This was April, and we had all spent the past four months living, working and taking classes in the city. Many of us had been challenged by the harsh reality that Detroiters live with daily, but beyond that, we had spent the past four months having our preconceptions of Detroit shattered.

For this self-selecting group of liberal arts students (and one arts student), the opportunity to live in Detroit meant a variety of things. For me, it was a way to connect with a city that I was interested in on both an academic and human level. After the program had finished, we had collectively spent 3,000 hours volunteering for social service agencies, community development corporations and community arts organizations. I chose to work with Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), the state House of Representatives member for Southwest Detroit and one of the few state legislators with an active district office.

Largely because of my positive experience in Semester in Detroit, I decided to take root in the city after I graduated in May, and chose to live in the district that I once served. Nestled in the heart of southwest Detroit, I have more daily interactions with my neighbors than I did even in Ann Arbor. There’s a community garden two blocks from my house where I can go pick a head of broccoli that I know was tended to by neighbors and friends.

Though I’m still involved with Tlaib’s office, I now work as an AmeriCorps member for Gleaners Community Food Bank on the east side of the city. I set up nutrition education and cooking classes for low-income folks in southeast Michigan through a national program called Operation Frontline. These classes are facilitated by volunteer chefs and registered dietitians who teach participants how to eat healthily on a limited budget.

After living and working here for nine months, I can’t deny that there is some truth to the media’s negative portrayal of the city. Violence and institutional corruption are painful realities that result from a history of racial segregation and deindustrialization, which has divided Detroit’s population for more than a century. This history is like a scar — physical proof of the trauma the city has suffered and yet evidence that there has been healing.

There is this Detroit, the one that people fear, but the Detroit that interests me is the one that is realistic about its own potential. I see this in perspectives like those offered by Boggs. These visionaries go beyond the idea of “saving” the city. Rather, they recognize that a complete restructuring is needed not only of the city’s infrastructure, but of what we think a city is. Given Detroit’s scars, revitalization will necessarily be painfully critical and rational, and people have already begun to think creatively about it. This is the “something new” that Boggs and many other Detroit residents are engaged in.

I see a lot of hope in this kind of realistic pragmatism. This is an exciting time to be living in Detroit because the moment has come for its re-imagining and restructuring. Detroit residents have both the unique privilege and the responsibility to engage themselves in this revitalization. I’m happy to be part of this in some way as a new resident of the city.

For those interested in learning more about the program and our work in the city, come to “Engaging Detroit — A Panel and Discussion on Doing Community Work in Detroit” on Wednesday, Sept. 23 from 7:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m. in Dennison HAll, Room 110.

And a reminder — Semester in Detroit applications are due September 30. Get the application online at www.semesterindetroit.com.

Diana Flora is a University alum.

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