Alissa is a community manager at TechTown who started working the front desk about two weeks after we arrived in Detroit. Our task this week, which was to interview an interesting person that we have met so far, is definitely a creative way by which to get to know Detroit, but it still felt kind of fake to me. I don’t want my conversations here to be forced or inauthentic, I want to find out about people’s paths naturally. So instead of sticking to the script, Alissa and I talked about her life and experiences, trading stories about boyfriends and work projects and restaurants.
We have gotten along well since the day we met, ever since Alissa alerted me that she knew three other Leah’s, all of whom were amazing people. I would be the fourth Leah to join those ranks. Alissa is originally from Detroit and has a background in arts and music, traveling in the crowds of visionaries and thinkers wherever she lays her roots. In 2009, she moved to Chicago, which is where she began to truly recognize what makes Detroit so special. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, no? She told me that the people felt so different in the two different cities. In Chicago, everyone was so into themselves, immensely dedicated to their own missions. In Detroit, she says, it feels like you can’t really fail. There is love and support from the community, and people are willing to connect other community-members to opportunities even if they personally stand to gain nothing.
Of her journey back home to Detroit, Alissa says, "A lot of it has been almost divine in a sense. I always find myself meeting the right people at the right times and being in the right places at the right time. Detroit has helped me a lot, because it’s been nothing but a supportive atmosphere since I got back. I spent some time at Wayne State studying journalism, but ultimately that path I was on wasn’t really speaking to me– it wasn’t extending anything to me creatively. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do, which is still an ongoing process that takes shape and form every day.”
Detroit helped Alissa find a grant opportunity to pursue the film that she is currently working on. The film’s funders appreciate her vision for the film, which grapples with extraterrestrial life, ancestral memory, dreamscape, and the Black experience. The grant is even sending her to the BlackStar Film Festival in Philadelphia, and she continues both to work at TechTown and to conceptualize her film. Alissa helped me understand some vital information about attaining professional fulfillment. She told me, “if you work and remain open and welcome positive experiences into life and follow your instinct, you will find this feeling of being celebrated and people wanting to help you and support your ideas.” She has a positive, easygoing spirt that is infectious and must draw in these opportunities, especially in a city like Detroit who is so willing to give them.
But the biggest thing I gained from my conversation with Alissa was not professional advice, but an older, wiser friend and mentor (I know this sounds cheesy, but it’s true). Over a bowl of Udon, she told me about France (her favorite country), happiness, and defiance. This week, we’re going out to the Udon restaurant she used to work in, where we’ll continue this conversation, this time without me taking notes and scrambling to write down every word.