What’s up fam,
I wanted to make a special appeal for all would be lovers of better education in the city of Detroit. On Tuesday, April 19, 2011 at 5:30pm, Teach for America – Detroit will be hosting a forum at the DIA (in the lecture hall) featuring Teach for America Founder, Wendy Koop as she discusses her new book, A chance to Make History, with Brian Dickerson, the Deputy Editorial Page Editor of the Detroit Free Press. This event is free and open to the public and you can buy books at the event. You can RSVP by clicking here.
I have the privilege of knowing some of the staff of Teach for America Detroit and I know they are doing the hard work to make education better in Detroit. I can’t think of one person that I know reads this blog that does not see or understand the importance of quality education, especially in places like Detroit. So if you are in the area, please make your way to the DIA on April 19 and help be a part of Detroit make history as a template of digging in when the going gets tough.
You can RSVP by clicking here.
Stay up fam,
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
The following is a brief essay I wrote in late 2010 for the Skillman Foundation Annual Report in which I was featured. After the essay, there is a short video message I recorded for young men in Detroit as well.
One Love. One II.
I wear my Detroit heritage proudly every day. I was born at Hutzel Hospital. I played basketball at Herman Gardens. I spent sunny afternoons at Hart Plaza. I love Detroit, its people and its history. Most importantly, I love the future of this great city.
The city’s visionary leaders and institutions invested in me and thousands of other children like me. Programs like the Skillman-funded Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP) exposed us to a future beyond the negative circumstances too many young people face. Foundations like Skillman joined hands with Detroit Public Schools, businesses like General Motors and universities like my alma mater, the University of Michigan, to work toward a common purpose: to expose the children of today to the skills of tomorrow, regardless of their zip code. The writing opportunities. The friendships. The science projects. The math challenges. DAPCEP transformed these subjects from intimidating and mysterious to accessible and fun. They gave me educational experiences that empowered me to choose my destiny with confidence.
The future of Detroit will be built upon initiatives like DAPCEP. They will combine the best thinking from the city’s people, government, educational, cultural, business and philanthropic communities to overcome our shared challenges. The entire Detroit community will come together to mold the Detroit we dream of.
This city produces hard-working people with brilliant minds. Many of us went to other places in search of careers and opportunities. We may have left Detroit, but Detroit certainly has not left us. Detroit’s diaspora is full of sons and daughters who are hungry to participate in the city’s renaissance. We’re ready to contribute our talents to the home that made us who we are.
DAPCEP and similar programs built human capital in Detroit. We have an opportunity to supplement the human capital investments that are being made today by reclaiming people who benefited from past investments. So let’s invest in the entire Detroit community. Let’s invest in the relationships upon which our future will be built.
I will return home to be part of Detroit’s bright future and give to the city that has given me so much. There are thousands of others who are ready to do the same.
What’s up fam and Happy New Year 2011!
For as much as we wax poetic regarding the lack of ‘movements’ in America and elsewhere, I think a key factor is the lack of dreaming. To be more precise the idea I am thinking of is what I call “humanity dreaming.” I don’t have a definition per se but for me, humanity dreaming is the force that drives individuals and groups to work on causes of essential human rights whose benefits may never be realized in their own lifetime. Examples include but are not limited to the American fight to get women the right to vote, the ending of slavery (and legal discrimination) in America, the ending of apartheid in South Africa, India’s independence movement, etc. The problem with history is that the aforementioned victories appear so preordained. These and similar moments in history rarely tell the story of non-public figures that looked at their families and decided they would not leave it to their children to fight the good fight.
I do not mean to imply that we have moved passed the ‘movements’ era. Instead, I think movements tend to be viewed in far more personal terms that inadvertently dilute the force and/or possibility of humanity dreaming.
Simply put, I hear more and more people discuss movements in terms of acquiring more resources in order to help more people. For example, a person from a bad neighborhood that is grateful to have a good education and a better job may claim that one day they will have enough resources to start a non-profit to help transform the community they grew up in. The problem with this mindset is not values, but scope.
To be sure, I have no problem with non-profits in and of themselves but generally speaking, the vast majority of people needed to help a young person “make it out” are not people of vast means or founders of non-profits. In other words, it’s like we put so too much faith in the power of institutions rather than our ability to transform our institutions to do right by the least of these. What is biggest project/event you were a part of (minus family) that had the biggest positive impact beyond you? Chances are, whatever that project/event was has had a lasting impact on how you view the futility of social change. More importantly, we need the lessons you learned from that experience to inform an even larger fight much like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made the transition between and across racial injustice, economic injustice, political injustice, and so on. When all is said and done, we are all waiting for YOU to help us see beyond ourselves and do the work that will transform the world for the better.
Just my thoughts,
Stay up fam,
If the pen is mightier than the sword, then the camera is mightier than the gun. This is particularly true when it comes to citizens recording their encounters with police. Time just ran a story involving Anthony Graber, a Maryland Air National Guard staff sergeant, facing 16 years in prison. “His crime? He videotaped his March encounter with a state trooper who pulled him over for speeding on a motorcycle. Then Graber put the video — which could put the officer in a bad light — up on YouTube.” See below
Some states are trying to make it a crime to record police officers on grounds of wiretapping, which essentially makes it a crime to record someone’s conversation without their consent. After the Oscar Grant debacle and others like it, “cameras have become the most effective weapon that ordinary people have to protect against and to expose police abuse. And the police want it to stop.”
The logic of disallowing recordings of police is indefensible. When cops have cameras mounted on their cars, their no consent with the person being pulled over. If I drive and a speed camera snaps me for speeding, I don’t consent to that but it keeps me honest. The larger issue is that cameras keep everyone honest. No matter how advanced the technology, sunlight is always the best disinfectant.
The problem I have is that police that do their job the right way shouldn’t fear any citizen recording their activity. Lest anyone underestimate this issue, imagine your loved a victim of police abusing their authority and your ability to raise awareness or develop your case would be with or without a videotape of said incident.
Stay up fam,
What’s up fam,
This has been a sobering week for Detroit and while I can’t quite make sense of it all, I know I need to write and revisit my thoughts later. So please, bear with me and indulge my stream of consciousness.
For those that don’t know, the city of Detroit has been ransacked by a wave of violence in the past couple of weeks involving the unrelated deaths of two children and a cop. Brian Huff, a cop, was shot dead when he and other police officers were called out to investigate shots fired from a vacant house. When the cops entered the home, the people inside the home opened fire, wounding four cops and killing Huff. Huff, 45 is survived by his wife and 10-year old son. Here is where we stand thus far according to what is being reported in the press regarding the children. Chauncey Owens, a 34 year old male shot and killed 17-year old Jerean Blake.
I entered the Washington Post’s America’s Next Great Pundit contest a couple of weeks ago. I did not make the list of top 10 finalists, so the country will have to keep reading here to my punditry for a least the next little while.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed writing this opinion piece on gentrification. Take a look.
One Love. One II.
Are newly opened Starbucks, pedestrians with designer sunglasses, and big box retailers symbols of revitalization or the death of a neighborhood? Culturally speaking, it’s a funeral.
Neighborhoods become cool because of their history. History trumps gang wars, drug havens, and panhandlers when it comes to earning the “up and coming” title. Think Harlem. Its history as the Mecca of early 20th century black creativity made it a cool place to live despite the effects of its crack epidemic.
The model for capitalizing on the cool is simple: 1) buy a house, 2) renovate it, and 3) quadruple the price. This ensures that new, more attractive people will move in and manifest the coolness. The problem is that when black and Latino people are displaced, so are their memories, values, and relationships.
Revitalization brings us shiny new stores and unfamiliar neighbors. Unfortunately, new stores don’t mean new friends for our sons to play football with or our daughters to jump rope with. They also don’t mean new friends for our veterans to play dominoes with at the VFW.
What’s left are neighborhoods without souls. Gentrification has a way of inducing schizophrenia upon a place. A block that was once filled with locally-owned, locally-supported, complimentary businesses is now stuffed with unrelated chains fighting for attention. Cohesive cultural scenes become disjointed commercial conglomerates. Aimless neighborhood development does give at least one gift: bad traffic.
Neighborhoods can be made safer and redeveloped without economic displacement. This happens when capital investments are targeted toward strengthening communities rather than supplanting them.
We need less overpriced lattes and more family-owned restaurants. We need fewer high-rise, low-quality condominiums and more streets where everyone knows everyone else’s names. We must build on the genuine relationships that made our neighborhoods what they are, not break them apart and auction them to the highest bidder. Now is the time to double down on building America up in ways that celebrate the rich histories of every corner, of every neighborhood, everywhere.