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Joan L. Witte Headshot

My One Word for Detroit: Unite

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Columnist Neil Rubin recently wrote a response to the former communications chief for Mayor Bing, Karen Dumas's, call out to describe Detroit in one word. His response included a list of words from metro Detroiters that varied from "crumbling" to "rebuilding." Neil put out a call for more words.

My one-word response to Rubin, Dumas, and anyone else is "unite." Instead of focusing on what is, let's focus on what can be.

Groups like Detroit4Detroit are helping to build the vital connections between what would seem to be disparate entities: suburbanites and disadvantaged city residents, hipsters and oldsters, haves and have-nots, and in many cases have-not-so-much with have-nothing.

In the metro Detroit community, each of us can greatly enhance the various government efforts and in some cases move the needle faster. How? By putting the pointing fingers down. It's no secret that metro Detroit -- city and suburbs alike -- has a long and fractured history.

Detroit's divisive ways go all the back to World War I according to Reynolds Farley and Harry J. Holzer the authors of Detroit Divided. Farley and Holzer, sociologist from the University of Michigan and an economist at Michigan State University, respectively, did an extensive research project on the rise and fall of Detroit. Based on interviews with city residents they determined one of the area's key economic challenges is due to its polarization and lack of unity. According to Farley and Holzer, unity and collaboration between the ring of suburbs, the city, and amongst city residents themselves are key success drivers of other thriving metropolitan areas like Miami, Atlanta, and Chicago.

Instead of taking sides or placing blame, reach out and help a fellow metro Detroiter with a job, a hand up, or a meal. Because while the details of the consent agreement are being hammered out, many people living in Detroit are struggling to put food on the table and find a job. Gilbert buying buildings, light rail, or Twitter coming to Detroit are not going to change this reality in the near future. If you are going hungry and/or unable to find a job, all the very positive news doesn't make a difference now.

Especially in light of the fact that the consent agreement will result in an estimated 1,000 City of Detroit employees losing their jobs. Many service providers to the city and businesses are already bracing themselves for the hit they will take from the proposed budget cuts and the trickle down effects. What will we do as a community when push comes to shove and the situation gets worse before it gets better?

As an old Ethiopian proverb advises, when spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.

Developers are raising hammers to turn buildings like the Old Ponchatrain and Madison Building into vibrant places of business. And, it's also "Hammer Time" on a personal level for the citizens of metro Detroit.

It doesn't matter where you live or who you are. Pick up your own hammer and contribute to rebuilding the city in your own way -- hire a local, foster young entrepreneurs, or help with a project.

Do you want to help make metro Detroit better, but don't know how? Take a look at this, or come to a grassroots event that will put real hammers in the hands of some people who really want to work, have job offers, but can't accept the job because they literally don't have a hammer.

The event is on May 11 at Bookies Bar & Grille at 7 p.m. All dollars raised -- EVERY cent -- will go towards purchasing tools so the program graduates of Youthbuild can get a job.

YouthBuild is an initiative that helps 18-24 year-old highschool dropouts from low-income families obtain a GED and learn construction skills. Many of the students receive job offers, but some can't accept them because they lack their own personal construction tools.

Like the stories that Police Chief Ralph Godbee shared in his testimony to Attorney General Eric Holder's National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, many of these students don't have a stable home environment or enough food to eat either.

Giving people the skills and means to get a job helps address the root causes of violence. So come on May 11; build your own connections over good food and music and help more students. We have already raised enough money to buy tools for eight of the 56 students.

Rebuild Detroit the sustainable way -- build and connect the people. Unite.