Our first couple of days in Detroit were filled with tours, discussions, and bonding experiences. Overall, we as a group have gelled really well! I have even been given the nickname of Grandpa or Gramps for whatever reason. Honestly, I can’t understand kids these days with their FaceTubes and Instasnaps. Other than exploring the city and bonding with my group, I have really enjoyed learning about Detroit from the executive director of my internship worksite, GreenLight Fund Detroit. One of my favorite moments of this past week was when Rishi Moudgil, our executive director and a Detroit native, gave Divya (my awesome work partner) and I a 3 hour overview of the history of Detroit from its origins as a French territory to the present. We discovered the multifaceted personality of Detroit, how it was once considered the “Paris of the West,” and how the city has a habit of “rising from the ashes” and then landing back on its feet. We learned of the extensive racial history of Detroit, the automobile industry’s overwhelming power in business and in policy, and the changing and decreasing population of the city. I was especially surprised by the prohibitive policies and decisions that were put in place that have contributed to Detroit's recent and current economic downturn. I was also surprised how alike Detroit’s racial history of urban revitalization, redlining, the criminalization of black people and poverty was to Durham’s racial history. I figured that a midwestern city like Detroit would have a less tragic racial environment than a southern city like Detroit. This goes to show that racism is not a Southern problem but a national problem.
I am truly grateful that Rishi exposed us to all of this on the second day of work. His overview taught us that one cannot understand and try to improve the conditions in Detroit without knowing what the city is and how it has gotten to this point. If one wants to have a positive impact on Detroit, he or she must have a working knowledge of its history, its people, and its multifaceted personality. Don’t get me wrong. There are numerous problems within Detroit regarding education, crime, economic development, racial discrimination, policy, and more, and ignoring these issues would only cause them to persist even more. However, we should not bury the positives of the city in a pile of negatives. We should develop a malleable and experiential frame of mind. Though I cannot alter my prior perceptions of Detroit, I can give the city and Detroiters the opportunity to prove me wrong. Then, I can prove others wrong who have been and continue to be hesitant of my decision to be here. Detroit, its hopeful people, and its rich history deserve to be taken seriously.