Crime. Poverty. Blight. Record high unemployment numbers. Foreclosures outdone by few other places. A former mayor convicted of an array of charges too long to list. An industry that once fueled the region brought to its knees.
That’s what many think of when they hear Detroit. The outsiders, the others, the ones that never took the time or cared to really learn. The problem is that is ALL they know. All they see. All they hear.
I’m far from being well traveled but in my limited trips, usually to the south, there’s one thing that is certain no matter what. When a stranger asks where you’re from and you tell them, you will get a reaction. Telling people “I’m from Detroit” garners one of two outcomes. Either they make an “ouch, sorry to hear that face” or their eyes light up because they get it. They know.
They know that Detroit really is so much more than the crime statistics that so many use to write us off. They know that we are more than the empty factories and blighted buildings that outsiders like to point to and say, “see, just what we thought.” They know that we are a diverse city on the verge of a rebirth.
A mass exodus from the state the last couple of years has contributed to many “me too!” responses when I proudly wave my Detroit flag. People forced to leave the hometowns they grew up in to look for work elsewhere is, in its own way, helping the world’s image of Detroit. There are more Detroiters and Michiganders sprinkled throughout this nation telling people “you know what? It ain’t so bad. In fact, it’s kinda great.”
We are more than what they think they know. We always have been and we always will be. We are not broken up by official city limits that end at Eight Mile. From Taylor to Clarkston and everything in between, we are Detroit. There are some that seem to believe physical city limits apply to what it means to be from Detroit. That is not a philosophy I subscribe to. It’s a region, a culture, an attitude, an energy and now – a movement.
Visitors eventually learn, sometimes taking the long way around but they get there. A recent rash of films shot in Michigan has brought many familiar faces to the area. People like David Arquette, who was practically a one-man PR machine for the State of Michigan through his Twitter account (@davidarquette) while filming last summer. It’s never been a secret that I wasn’t a huge fan of Arquette but anyone who promotes and adores this state the way he did is all right in my book. He came. He saw. He got it.
More recently, Detroit 1-8-7’s Erin Cummings (@ErinLCummings) has used her role and her time in our fair city to draw attention to many of the local efforts and charities around town, going so far as to co-found her own operation collecting mittens to be distributed to those in need. She came. She saw. She got it.
Channel 7’s Steven Clark (@sclarkwxyz) has pioneered his own “backchannel” embracing Twitter to engage directly with viewers before, during, and after his nightly broadcast and quickly built a community amongst his followers. Last year Clark threw down a challenge, deciding on a “put up or shut up” approach to the complaints that only bad or depressing news is shown. Ok, so he put it a little nicer than that. We as viewers asked what happened to all the good news we KNOW is taking place around our city and region? What about all the people working to improve our city? Where are THOSE stories? Steven Clark replied by rallying the troops and saying “you show me.” Don’t just tell him, SHOW him. Get out your flip cam or your iPhone and get the stories you want told out there for everyone to check out. And you know what? People, like @PSCU_Amy being the first, answered. Urban farms! In Detroit! There’s been a notable difference in the nightly newscasts from @wxyzdetroit in the last several months. While there will always be bad news, violent stories, and tragedies to report on, there has been an influx in good news around town being showcased for anyone who cares to listen. I can only speak for myself but this change, along with the social media aspect of the #backchannel, has turned me in to a regular viewer where before it was, admittedly, more background noise than anything else.
WXYZ is taking it a step further starting this month, with the launch of their very own Detroit2020 campaign. Summed up best in their “Tale of Two Cities” report , Detroit 2020 is a movement to bring together a community, to inspire, to take stock of where we are at as a city and where we are going, looking at the problems we face as a region and actively working towards solutions. It’s a beautiful thing and I look forward seeing it grow and witness its impact over the next decade. There are big things coming, folks.
Locals without their faces on TV or movie screens are doing what this area needs most – seeing its flaws and working to make them better. There are hundreds of unknown names and faces working right now, right this very second, doing incredible things to better our city and investing their time and money to make it happen. They don’t have millions of Twitter followers to get the word out. They don’t have a nightly broadcast and familiar face to draw attention to their work. It’s as grassroots as one can get. You might ask what’s in it for them. Why put so much time, effort and energy into a city that the rest of the country has written off? Simply: its home. The rest of the world may never know their names or the major contributions and sweat equity they’re providing for our hometown, but their actions, hard work, and perseverance will be felt for decades to come. There’s too many to name here and many I’m sure I haven’t even heard of yet. A google search and a few clicks and you can spend hours losing yourself in project after project working to rebuild our city.
Despite its scars, this is our city. It’s our city to build back up. It’s our city to love and nurture, to do our part to make it what we know it can be. This used to be the greatest city in America, the epicenter of Midwest, the heartbeat of industry and the inspiration of a country to be bigger, better, stronger. We can be those things again. We may have to fight a little more than some, we may have to work a little harder to get people to see beyond the reputation but I believe we can do it.
We can do it.
It’s gritty, blue collar America. It’s Hockeytown. It’s Tigers games under the ballpark lights followed by fireworks on a Friday night. It’s the Lions still managing to sell tickets despite a not-so-distant past of 0-16. They keep trying and people still show up no matter how bad it gets. It’s loyalty. If you need proof of the faith people have in this city, look no further than Ford Field. Rock bottom, easy to kick ’em when they’re down Lions slowly and steadily clawing away, trying to get somewhere. Anywhere. Sound familiar? It’s the story of Detroit. Fitting almost, isn’t it? Besides, if the Saints can win the Super bowl there is hope for us yet!
It’s a larger than life car cruise along Woodward each year. It’s never being too far away from that lake you’re dying to spend the day on no matter where you’re at. Its ballparks, urban farms, and a Pure Michigan campaign that makes me so proud to call this place home. It’s early mornings at Eastern Market and winter festivals at Campus Martius. It’s the Heidelberg Project, its world-class museums and culture and Coney Island wars (I vote Lafeyette, for the record). It’s music. From Hitsville USA and its Motown roots to people like Kid Rock who will never let the world forget where they’re from, using their bit of fame to remind people that after all is said and done – after all the jokes have been made and naysayers have made their comments, after every flaw has been pointed out and every scab on this city has been picked at over and over again – they’re choosing to stay. They’re choosing to stay because they know what this place really is.
It’s Detroit Rock City. It’s Motown. It’s the Motor City.
It’s that old English D stitched into a ball cap that, even a thousand miles away, makes you feel like you’re home.
It’s Detroit. Through and through.
Some say it can’t be done. Some say it’s too far gone to ever really come back. Some say its wasted effort, wasted time, wasted energy. To those people – the doubters, the pessimists, the naysayers – I got two words, “You’re wrong.” Am I maybe a little smitten with my corner of world? No doubt. But I’m certainly not alone. Spend a summer night at Pine Knob and listen to the crowd burst into cheers like I’ve never heard when the lyrics ring out “I won’t leave because this is my hometown.” Just stop and listen to 20,000 proud, loud Michiganders cheering and clapping with goosebumps on their arms because in a moment like that…Its pure love. It’s pure Detroit.
We may be the underdogs and there may be a million reasons why some might believe we’ll never recover. But, damn, if there’s one thing this country loves it’s the underdog. We’re not going anywhere.
I’m from Detroit and I’m proud of it.
“I’ve heard them say they’re shutting Detroit down, but I won’t leave because this is my hometown….I heard them say that you can’t save that town, but I won’t leave, I will stand my ground…and I’ll still be when it comes back around.” – Times Like These, Kid Rock