Finding Detroit

I made the decision to move to Detroit on the wings of my new relationship. Detroit, the place where my Mother grew up, where my Grandmother went to work for decades, where my Grandfather died sending rifts through a family Elmer’s glued together. A place beloved and feared as a Murder Capital. A placed debate for the meaning of gentrification or the fallacies of post-automobile capitalist reinvention.

Maybe I chose to move here because we aren’t so different. Me, finally deciding to survive myself and move forward towards thirty in hopes that I can continue to overcome the circumstances of my condition. Detroit, replacing Ford and subsiding to the Dan Gilbert’s and start-ups that now dot the federally abandoned Black city in hopes that not all growth has to mean ridding itself of whatever legacy is still there.

All I can seem to think is that this isn’t what I expected. There is no resident pool protesting the Whole Foods in Midtown or rioting in the landscaped squares replacing old parking lots. Detroit is the Black woman airing her frustrations with the male-dominated corporate culture at her job to two young blonde women amazed at her gift of testimony but agreeing with her fury. Detroit is two white women outside of my 2-year old apartment community admitting that they shell out the hundreds of dollars for a private parking space instead of utilizing the abundant on-street parking “because of the neighborhood”. Detroit is me obviously rolling my eyes at them as they realize, too late, that they are speaking in the midst of someone who looks like they belong.

Detroit is the two Black men next to me in Desert Oasis networking for music besides not knowing each other at all. That is the Detroit I love seeing – the kind where the Black residents continue to build the way they were before Rock Company. A deep section of my inner being is seated with distrust for the incoming white residents. After all, I’ve only have evidence to understand growth as gentrification, and gentrification as yet another socioeconomic tsunami that steals from those who often have the least.

Surprisingly, my boyfriend does not see it the same way. If he tells his story, he grew up on the West side. When I tell the story, he grew up in Southfield. He went to a private Catholic school to spare himself the horrors of DPS and went on to be very successful as a software engineer. He loves the new capital and energy because he remembers when living in Detroit connotated no positive or exciting energy. When you couldn’t walk downtown without hyper-vigilance and fear. When there weren’t Desert Oasis coffee shops or Cannelle French Patisseries or boutique hotels like the Shinola. He moved here to be apart of the new energy and growth under Dan Gilbert, so much in fact that he now works for one of the Rock Companies. In true tragic mulatto fashion, he believes not necessarily that Black people wasted the opportunity to invest in Detroit, but even given the opportunity and capital, that they wouldn’t do it with the faith that Dan Gilbert did. I don’t agree. They already were, and already have.

From both life and research, I know that the economic situation of my people is complex and could never be boiled down to can or can’t. I know that the top generator of revolutionary creativity is poverty and that my people can make anything into coveted art. I know that when we don’t have, we make a way in the name of survival. I also know that it is said “The Meek shall inherit the earth”. I know that I neither believe in meekness nor humility when it comes to the vast majority of Black folks because we are owed so much.

As a newcomer myself who’s official job description is “willfully unemployed due to existential disillusion”, I set out to see if Detroit was being monopolized by Dan Gilbert like I suspected. Turns out, me and my boyfriend were both misunderstanding Detroit — Black businesses have been here, haven’t gone anywhere, and more are popping up everyday.  I already own 7 Lip Bar products. I plan to join Live Cycle Delight, a Black-owned fitness studio. I’ve been to many Black owned restaurants and frequent Queens, a Black-owned bar. When I go to Eastern Market on Saturdays, there are Black vendors everywhere. If I want to invest in a Black Detroit, I can and do and will continue to do so.

I want to invest in the Detroit that led Marc Peeples to start a garden in his old Detroit neighborhood, not one that would humor Deborah Nash, Martha Callahan and Jennifer Morris filing false police reports that Mr. Peeples was threatening them for being white because they had their own vision for the abandoned space. I want to invest in the Detroit that led to Judge E. Lynise Bryant, the Black female judge who dismissed the case as the racist bullshit that it was, not the one that would have tolerated a different outcome. I want to invest in the Detroit that welcomes newcomers while maintaining cultural ownership of the historically Black city.

But that’s just it – from what I have seen of Detroit so far, it seems that I am inventing the narrative of the discontent native to soothe my own lingering resentment towards the white-owned economy that drove me away from Grand Rapids. In Downtown Detroit, Black and otherwise owned businesses and their customers exist in a harmony I have not seen anywhere else. It may very well be possible that native and new Detroiters are working together in their own spheres for the collective improvement of this urban testament to American innovation and creativity. Surely there are those who might feel displaced in the torrential urban place-remaking, but Detroit is showing me that the cure for that is involvement, embrace, and hustle.

Even though I famously don’t believe in humility, I find myself humbled by the cooperative economy driving Detroit towards a new era. Detroit is not Grand Rapids, and it’s time for me to accept that reality.

Me and Detroit may not be so different, but I am excited to know that it may be a little farther along the path towards peace than I am. This is truly a new beginning.

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