I remember first telling some friends and family about my acceptance to DukeEngage in Detroit. The looks on their faces were priceless. They reminded me of when someone shows you a picture of their baby who is not exactly a model- the ‘smile-and-try-and-find-something-nice to-say’ look. A common follow-up question would be ‘Why Detroit?’.
Before arriving here, I could only give a surface level answer to that question. It was less about Detroit specifically and more about the idea of working domestically. I would talk about my experience working abroad and, while a great experience, I felt like more could be done. At times it felt like I was too much of an outsider to make a significant impact, leaning more towards ‘voluntourism’ than actually improving the community. Working in Detroit would provide an opportunity to make an impact at home.
My answer to this question has definitely changed since arriving here. After spending a little more than a week in Detroit, I realize how wrong I was to simply generalize it as another ‘struggling’ city. There is so much more here. There is character.
This became clear to me on the second day when we took a tour of the city with the Detroit Experience Factory. While a lot of tours merely show you buildings and state a few fun facts, in this case a story was told. It felt as though Detroit was less a cluster of buildings and neighborhoods, but somewhat of a living organism, one that had depth and personality.
This is demonstrated in the city flag itself. It depicts the Detroit fire of 1805, with the quotes “We hope for better things” and “It will rise from the ashes” emblazoned on it, written by Father Gabriel Richard after the tragic event. I love this. It’s this idea of resilience in a city, one that doesn’t stop despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles spanning from the fire of 1805 to the Great Depression to the recent recession in 2008.
I believe this is what will stick with me the most as I spend my time here. Grit has always been something ingrained in my character, and I love being surrounded by a people and city that share this. I am someone that takes pride in overcoming setbacks and challenges, and I am excited to bring that to my experience here. At the same time, however, I recognize that I am only here for eight weeks. Others have been here for a lifetime. I have made an effort to prevent the ‘save-the-world’ mentality that is often taken. I need to stay humble and learn how I can bring my strengths to the project at hand.
With that said, I am excited to learn more about this amazing, character-filled city as I spend more time here. I am so happy and honored to play a role- albeit maybe a small one- in helping this city ‘rise from the ashes’.