Countless times over the course of my first year in college, I was reminded to remain nonpartisan, to not make judgements on anyone or anything until I have experienced it myself. My opinions should be formulated only after I expose myself to a situation or after I interact and learn about a person first hand. Truth becomes so clouded by the voices of others, affecting the portrayals of people, places, situations, that suddenly partial-truths become whole-truths. My experience at Duke has reinforced the necessity of open-mindedness in a world with too many issues founded on and prolonged by presumptions, misconceptions, and stubbornness. The experience during my first week in Detroit, Michigan only strengthened this lesson of open-mindedness and the importance of first-hand interactions...
Upon telling my parents earlier this year that I wanted to go to Detroit over the summer, I was given an immediate look of skepticism and slight confusion. “Why would you want to go to such a place?” Such a place? The negative perception that my parents had of Detroit implicitly manifested itself in their language. And it came without a second thought. The media portrays Detroit as a downtrodden irremediable city rampaged with crime, poverty, and danger; most people buy into this portrayal without any doubt. But, the media fails to recognize the abundance of art, food, culture, and most importantly high spirit, passion, and pride of its people who wholeheartedly love their city. From my initial few days here in Detroit, I have realized that, yes, there are issues, but the beauty of the city, its people, its environment is undeniable.
EASTERN MARKET — 6/1/2019
It was 8:30 in the morning, and the sun was only halfway risen in the sky. I was undoubtedly tired, but the excitement of going to my first farmer’s market (and the slight cold dewy air) gave me more than enough energy. As soon as we entered the market, we were met with channels of bursting flora covering the concrete ground. The amount of people there, carrying pots of flowers, pulling carts full of produce, was surprising; our group was only able to walk single file, like a parade of ducklings following their mother (which, in a way, was pretty accurate).
Weaving through the produce tables, customers, and vendors, we made our way into the center of the market...and then we dispersed. We were on our own.
I wandered around the vendors around me, scouting out all the different vegetables available, fresh fruit, and the cheap prices. I decided to make my first purchase from one of the vendors nearby after overhearing a lady telling her friend that she “always buys from here.”
I picked out a basket of roma tomatoes and another of small red-skinned potatoes and went to the back table to pay. Remembering that some vendors only took cash, I asked the man if he took card, to which he made an indistinguishable sound that I took as a ‘yes.’ He swiftly dumped the tomatoes and potatoes in a plastic bag, handed it to me, and said “$3.” I was just about to hand him my debit card when he saw and told me that they unfortunately do not take card. Stressed out and a bit embarrassed as I realized that I was holding up a line and that he would have to refill the emptied baskets, I quickly apologized and was just about to leave when the lady behind me stepped in.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll pay for it.”
I was taken aback. This stranger offered to pay for the groceries of someone she also did not know. The generosity of this lady shaped my experience at the farmer’s market and elevated my perception of Detroit even further. I felt extremely grateful for her small act of kindness, and little did she know that this tiny gesture made me feel welcome and at home in this unfamiliar city. Throughout the week after interacting with random people at the grocery store, talking with other customers at restaurants, and watching startup pitches at Detroit SOUP, the connection I felt to Detroit fostered by that initial interaction in Eastern Market was strengthened.
I realized that every person in the city was doing their own part to make the city as beautiful as possible. Whether it be creating a community thrift store nonprofit or helping someone at the weekly farmer’s market, the people of Detroit as a collective contribute to the beautifying of the city, helping reshape its image, continuously upraising morale and love for one another.
Before coming to Detroit, I had qualms about the impact I could make on the city in just eight weeks. All these issues that I have seen, materialized in the abandoned dilapidated states of infrastructure, cannot be tackled in such a short time. However, what I learned from the lady I met at Eastern Market is that small gestures go a long way; everyone is slowly improving the city, addressing its issues, and removing its stigmatized image. Change is a slow gradual process, and I am only here in one phase of the city’s evolution and “rise from the ashes.” My work here with NextEnergy is only a tiny part of a bigger project to improve Detroit through one of many different approaches. But small acts matter. My love for this growing city will doubtlessly burgeon. I hope to give love, hope, vision, and even more optimism to help this city. I cannot wait to see Detroit blossom with time and know, in the future, that I was here at one point, believing in it, rooting it on.