Introducing Detroit Diaspora

Detroit is where I was born. It’s the best place on earth.

You wouldn’t know that by the Detroit Decimation Porn that has been the most resilient major media fetish of the last five years. It makes me want to spit at my computer screen now. I get showing images and telling stories with the intent to educate. But it’s clear to me that nothing new is coming out of that noise: what was once educational is now irresponsible and exploitative.

I am neither a denier nor an apologist for what’s happening in Detroit. It’s tough. Real tough. The 2010 Census says the city has lost 25% of its population in the last 10 years. That fact is jarring but unsurprising.

Like most hard truths this presents both a set of challenges and a set of opportunities. Too many people dwell on the former, lacking purpose and direction. Instead, I’m choosing to approach the latter in a way that suits my current skill set and station in life.

I introduce to you Detroit Diaspora: From Detroit. For Detroit.

Detroit Diaspora: From Detroit. For Detroit.

Detroit Diaspora: From Detroit. For Detroit.

Grave challenges in Detroit’s public school system drove my parents to decide to move our young family out of the city to its northwest suburbs. They felt forced to choose between their child’s education and their love for Detroit, the only city they’d known. The Census data shows that more and more individuals and families are facing the same choice every day. This opens up a unique opportunity.

Detroit Diaspora is based on the premise that a strong way to rebuild Detroit’s human capital is to leverage the human capital that Detroit and it’s neighbors built. Southeastern Michigan has birthed, educated and trained hundreds of thousands of brilliant, hardworking leaders that have contributed their time, talents and treasure to the well-being of places all over the country and the world. Detroit’s most valuable export is its people.

Many move physically, as I did after graduating from the University of Michigan to pursue a career in software development. But most don’t move emotionally. Many of these travelers have family in the area. They faithfully read the Detroit Free Press, Detroit News, Michigan Chronicle, etc. more than the local papers in their new cities. They perk up when they hear the word Detroit at a bar or a party and initiate conversations with people about their home. And it’s over if they find somebody who also hails from Southeastern Michigan: just call it a night.

Being an organizer, whose passion is in connecting community energy and common purpose to world-changing goals, I see great potential for Detroit in the energy of these current expatriates.

  • What if everyone that ever thought about moving back home to Detroit actually did?
  • What if they maintained connections with the fearless changemakers building Detroit’s future and supported them with ideas and resources?
  • What if every native Detroiter changed the prevailing Detroit doomsday narrative one conversation at a time?
  • What if every native Detroiter knew of and was connected to every other native Detroiter in their city?

We are only limited by our imaginations when trying to envision what would be possible if we mapped and connected the Detroit Diaspora. When you connect people to one another that share common bonds, sparks are lit, fires are started and lives are changed forever.

Detroit Diaspora is about making those connections and being a platform for this community. As we grow, we’ll decide how to proceed together. I have a few ideas about what can be done through this community, but there are infinite possibilities:

  1. Diaspora Map. Who makes up the Diaspora? Where are they? What are they doing today? Who do they know? Through Detroit Diaspora we’ll draw this map together.
  2. Detroit Stories. People sharing their stories and vision for home and how they plan on contributing. For those that do return home, people will share how and why they did so. Detroit Diaspora will be a platform where these stories are told and shared.
  3. Detroit Circles. Everyone has a story and a place. Each place can form a Circle, where people interact face-to-face. People will soon be able to find and join Detroit Circles.

These are just a few ideas, by no means the extent of what’s possible or what will happen. The ideas and opportunities will flow as the community grows. So join and grow the community first. Let’s do our part to contribute to the future of Detroit.

Fellow native Detroiters, join me on this Detroit Diaspora journey today. Please share this with your friends and family.

One Love. One II.

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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora and am a National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org. I currently live in Washington, DC with my beautiful wife Ellen. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. Today I work at the crossroads of traditional political organizing and online activism. I speak before diverse audiences on empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation though emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet.

2 responses to “Introducing Detroit Diaspora”

  1. Denise says :

    I love this! I was thinking yesterday about ways to help Detroit from afar. I am thinking of starting a focus group in DC for former Metro Detroiters interested in te revitalization of the city. I think our focus could easily be to raise money for scholarships and adopting projects to encourage. There are a list of things Detroiters can do even if they never leave.

    • Garlin Gilchrist II says :

      Hi Denise, thanks for the kind words. Be sure to join at the website, http://detroitdiaspora.org.

      I’d like to work with you on the focus group idea. I think it dovetails nicely with the Detroit Circles concept, which I want to pilot here in DC since I live here. I’ll email you about this possibility.

      Thanks again and please spread the word about this within your network.

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