As my first week in the city comes to an end, I have so much to reflect on. Certain experiences, like walking through the Eastern Market on a weekend morning or interacting with young employees at DFA’s production facility, will stick with me and inspire me for years to come. I have never felt so motivated in my life, and I can attribute this to the “Detroit vs. Everyone” mentality I have seen in so many individuals here. At the Eastern Market, vendors are constantly helping and supporting each other and customers are going out of their way to compliment vendors on the quality of their products and service. The culture here is one defined by positivity and hard-work. After studying the racialized and prohibitive policies that have debilitated Detroit in the past, it’s clear to me that this culture is a manifestation of the resilient attitude Detroit has been forced to adopt on numerous occasions.
Often, blanket statements are pushed onto Detroit. The city is either portrayed as hopeless, or as one that has “revitalized” itself after bankruptcy. Both statements erase the various complexities and nuances that make Detroit a unique city. On my first day of work, I ignorantly used the term “revitalized” to describe Detroit when getting to know my boss at Detroit Food Academy, Julie. We were conversing about why Lee (my brilliant partner) and I were attracted to Detroit and why we had chosen to work here for the summer. Julie aptly pointed out to me that Detroit was not “revitalized”, but in the process of “revitalization”. She went on to explain that a wealthy individual living in Midtown might claim that the city is in a better place now than it was, but that a high-schooler living in the economically disadvantaged outskirts of the city would disagree. I was finally able to see that perspectives “on the field” can be drastically different than perspectives from the outside. I had believed that I had done my research before coming to Detroit. I had read news articles, government reports, third party reports and much more about the socioeconomic conditions that had defined the city over the previous decade. Sometimes, a twenty-minute conversation with someone immersed with work on the field can prove to be more valuable than months of research.
From what I have experienced thusfar, the people and social innovators of Detroit are far more concerned with uplifting each other than they are with any sort of media portrayal or narrative. Resilience and positivity are so integrated into the culture and atmosphere here that one cannot help but feel empowered to enact meaningful change.