The Detroit I know

This summer, I decided to return to Motown Mission for my second year on staff.  After living abroad in Spain, and going to school in Minnesota, the prospect of spending the summer in home-sweet Michigan, with truly amazing coworkers and friends, was appealing.  Not everyone that I talked to, however, understood why I wanted to come back and work in Detroit.  The city has a reputation.  The first things that probably come to mind are the stories commonly told by the media: bankruptcy, crime, racial riots, white flight, violence, and poverty.  Before I lived there last summer, most of the people I spoke with said, “Detroit!  It’s so dangerous!  Why on earth are you going there?”  And it is true that Detroit has not had an easy history, and still faces many economic and racial challenges.  But this is not the Detroit that I know, and the story of Detroit I want to share.

The Detroit I know is full of art and creative endeavors.  The music of Motown Records is all from Detroit, if you’ve ever heard of The Temptations, Diana Ross and The Supremes, or Stevie Wonder, and artists like Kid Rock, Eminem, and Bob Seger are also Detroit based.  Detroit has institutions like the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Detroit Institute of Arts to build up the formal artistic community, coupled with underground graffiti and independent art galleries.  My favorite artistic endeavor in the city is the Heidelburg Project, a neighborhood that has been entirely converted, with all the houses and yards covered in paint, sculpture, and symbolic objects – into a giant project spanning two blocks full of color and creativity.  I also have had the opportunity to hear slam poets, street musicians, and local writers.  The innovation and creativity in the city inspires me.

The Detroit I know is full of faith and trust in God.  My perspective may be slightly biased because I live in a church and do work within a faith community, but even outside the church, I see God’s presence and influence clearly within the city.  Churches line Woodward Avenue of every sort of denomination, beautiful and impressive buildings amidst the abandoned apartment buildings.  People show up to church, and talk about God a lot outside of it.  Many times in casual conversation, the response to “how are you” is “blessed,” usually elaborated by all of the good things God had provided – friends, family, His love.  My faith is built up by the immense trust in God I see across the city.

The Detroit that I know is made up of caring and loving individuals, some of the most wonderful and generous people I’ve ever met.  At my college we say “Carls care about Carls,” but Detroiters care about Detroiters even more.   The sense of community is palpable and carried out in actions, especially in neighborhoods.  I worked with neighborhood clubs, who formed coalitions to watch over abandoned houses, keep neighborhoods safe, and support neighbors in times of need.  Community gardens grow on abandoned lots, tended by neighbors so everyone can enjoy fresh produce. In the neighborhood where I lived, there was a group of elderly folks who sat outside on lawn chairs, everyday, and would wave to passing cars, just to spread joy.  The people care about each other and it inspires me to live with that kind of love.

Lastly, the Detroit I know is a place of hope.

Hope reigns in the city.  The community of Detroiters is not a people that give up.  Facing the worst economically, from prejudice, from systems of injustice, the people in the city persevere and continue working together.  Their tenacity is inspiring: the city has been through tough trials, but every time it comes back stronger than ever. Nothing says it better than the city motto, a Latin phrase written in 1805 after a large fire nearly destroyed the entire city:  Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus.   We hope for better things.  It will arise from the ashes.

This is the Detroit that I know and love: a city that is arising, full of life, made up of its art, faith, hope and a community loving individuals.  I came back for a second summer at Motown because the city, in all of its glory, won’t let me go.

Katie Grosh is a rising junior at Carleton College studying Geology and Spanish.