This is the common response I receive after telling friends and family that I am spending my summer participating in DukeEngage Detroit. This seemingly unharmful comment is usually followed up by, “didn’t Detroit recently declare bankruptcy?” or “isn’t Detroit extremely dangerous?” All of which are masked questions that when unveiled reveal the commonly held preconception that Detroit is not a city people deem to be a desirable destination. These comments of friends and family reflect the manner in which this city is portrayed to the media: a depressed, hopeless city comprised of corruption, loss, crime, and bankruptcy.
Despite these hardships that Detroit has faced, from my brief time here it has already become blatantly evident that Detroiters love Detroit. Their hearts reflect those of the people who have endured and remained; of those who have stood by one another through job loss, a declining economy, evictions, and dejection. Their tragedy has fostered an incredibly robust and resilient community with a huge and genuine interest in the future of their city. Rather than abandoning hope and escaping to a more prosperous city, Detroiters are willing to invest their lives into improving upon the city’s general well-being and increasing economic opportunities.
Although I have only been here for a little over a week, I have already began to observe that this holds true: when talking to locals, every single person has stated that within the past five years they have already witnessed a dramatic expansion in the growth of the city, an influx of new hip places around downtown, and the presence of a younger generation looking towards the city for opportunity. Additionally, as an enrichment event, we participated in another testament to the community’s investment in “rising from the ashes” through Detroit’s city-wide SOUP—a microgranting pitch contest and celebration of innovative projects that aim to provide social goods or services for the community. Upon entrance, participants pay a fee that grants them the opportunity to vote for one of the four presenters who he/she feels is most deserving and needing of the money. Events such as SOUP create atmospheres that emphasize instilling the power of choice, the importance of supporting community, and exposure to prevalent pains and needs present in the community that need attention.
As an additional testimony towards the Detroit community, I was shocked by the welcoming environment Detroiters possess for temporary residents and visitors of the city. Whether it be talking to a mother at a crosswalk about the technicalities behind MoGo, having strangers grant warm welcomes to Detroit at restaurants, or talking to owners of local businesses and food trucks at Eastern Market about their journeys, the majority of people are sincere, hospitable, and demonstrate a genuine interest in learning about others in their community—a piercing yet beautiful contrast to the western individualistic culture of my home, Los Angeles.
During my time in Detroit, I hope to take everything that Detroit stands for and manifest it through my mentality and work with my community partner, TechTown. I will be intentional when listening to the needs of the organization and use their input to conduct conducive conversion regarding possible improvements and ways in which I can provide assistance. I recognize that having solely eight weeks does not warrant an incredibly dramatic alteration in programming, yet small systematic changes lead to grand impacts. I want to do my part, be the person that my organization needs in this moment, and aid in pulling Detroit, even if only a centimeter more, out of the ashes.