Two years ago, while visiting the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, I decided on a whim that I wanted to explore the city of Detroit. At that time, I was oblivious to the automobile-dependent economy, the rapidly dropping city population, and the devastating bankruptcy. All I knew was that Detroit was a popular US city, one that might serve well for a fun day-long city trip. The next day, as my younger, innocuous self walked the streets, I saw Detroit for how the media portrayed it: crime-ridden, abandoned, broken. I was horrified. The streets were empty, the city lights were broken, and the buildings were neglected. I thought to myself, what kind of depressing place did I pick for a day-long vacation?
However, it was because of how negatively Detroit was portrayed that I felt such a strong need to help rebuild the city two years later. I told Matt and Katherine during my DukeEngage interview that I felt like I had a personal obligation to assist in redeveloping the city after my shocking experience two years ago. Although my view of Detroit has dramatically changed over the course of the last few days, my personal mission still remains the same: to help rebuild Detroit. To be honest, when I first arrived in Detroit last week, the city looked similar to my memories from two years ago: run-down and abandoned. It was not until we participated in the Downtown scavenger hunt and met the people of Detroit at TechTown that I realized that there is so much more to the Motor City than what initially meets the eye. After all, the city’s motto “Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus” in English “Rising From the Ashes”, isn’t given for no reason. Before leaving on the scavenger hunt, the tour guide mentioned that the people of Detroit are “doers.” And it is this resilient, innovative, “doer” mentality that is rebuilding the city from ground up.
This “doer” mentality especially holds true in TechTown, the incubator and accelerator I have been assigned to work at for the duration of my time in Detroit. Before participating in DukeEngage Detroit, I knew that I was already interested in entrepreneurship, and I felt that working at TechTown would serve as a good way to gain more exposure to the field. However, what I did not know was that unlike the money-crazed entrepreneurial spirit that has made where I’m from, Silicon Valley, so famous, entrepreneurship in Detroit has an additional social justice and economic impact component. Just from speaking to a handful of TechTown’s many clients, it is clear that when Detroit entrepreneurs see problems in the community, from finding a way to develop a water usage monitoring mobile application to employing returning citizens from prison, they have a need to solve these pressing problems. TechTown doesn’t just take on clients that it believes will become huge financial successes, but specifically chooses those that will contribute to the economic redevelopment of the Detroit. This dedication to giving back to the community isn’t just seen in the goals of TechTown itself, but is also clearly visible in the passionate, kind-hearted TechTown employees, as well as the city's bright social entrepreneurs.
I am extremely proud to say that I am also now part of this mission to rebuild Detroit. Although I may not have enough time in Detroit to see the fruition of my efforts, I am confident that with the collective efforts of my newfound TechTown friends and the greater Detroit community in reaching this common goal, Detroit will undoubtedly rise from the ashes.