I was born and raised in Detroit's Northwest side in a neighborhood that was relatively quiet and friendly yet conversely no stranger to violence and tragedy. I lost my first love and childhood best friend to gun violence and was never allowed to venture much further than my own backyard. My single mom worked hard to keep food on table and protect me from much of the "ugly" that surrounded us. We didn't have much, but I had everything that I needed and was always encouraged to follow my dreams. I came from a family of artists, so my creativity was never stifled. That combined over-protectiveness and creative freedom led to many indoor adventures -- I did everything from having my own AOL keyword and illustrating for major companies to publishing a multicultural women's magazine and founding a student organization/documentary in high school. Socially I was an introverted mess, but internally I've always had this drive and sense that I could accomplish anything. I owe that to my mom and from years of watching PBS.
Through the good and bad I've always stayed connected to the city, moving away only briefly during my early college years in Bowling Green, Ohio. As a "dreamer" trying to figure out how to become a "doer" upon my return, I organically became part of the new wave of creative, entrepreneurial, and social communities. I found myself identifying with both the struggle of young people trying to bring their ideas to life and the thought processes that led so many others to leave. After all, the mantra of my reality had always been that I needed to 'make it out of Detroit' someday, never to stay. I got involved in everything that I could -- programs like Bizdom U, organizations like Detroit Young Professionals, and networking events led by the Detroit Chamber's Fusion group. It was in those environments that I began meeting innovative and inspiring people my age and wondered why I hadn't heard of these people, these movements they were involved in, and these opportunities that they were taking advantage of, before.
I began dreaming of creating a community that was supportive of young people like them and those who aspired to be like them; a community that was all inclusive, drawing inspiration and resources from both people that looked like me and those that didn't. I wanted to show young people both near and far, that there ARE opportunities to turn your dreams into success stories here, in this supposed wasteland. And so I Am Young Detroit was born. I created the blog in 2009 to share the stories of these unsung people, movements, and opportunities. I thought, here's something simple that I can do to contribute to changing the Detroit narrative. I made it a point to feature those who weren't really receiving shine elsewhere. I Am Young Detroit officially launched to the public in early 2010 and quickly gained steam, becoming one of the first niche blogs covering content specific to Detroit and its under 40 dreamers & doers.
I'd always intended I Am Young Detroit to become more than a blog, hence our original slogan: "More than a blog, it's a movement!" Two years in beta wasn't something I aimed for, but living the double life of both an emerging Detroit leader and a young woman struggling to survive everyday made it so. For two years I worked hard pitching to foundations, businesses, fellow doers, anyone that would lend an ear and offer any kind of advice or support to help get IAYD 2.0 off the ground (and for a short while I even had help, thanks Mike Han and Jon Hughes!) with little progress. I envisioned micro grants, how-to guides, engagement opportunities, job listings, and technologies to further empower Detroit's aspiring doers. But no one said social entrepreneurship would be easy! In 2011 I decidedly slowed down the pace of I Am Young Detroit to venture into other projects like 71 POP and Bohomodern, which was probably the best thing I could have ever done for myself at the time. Those experiences reinvigorated me and made me realize more than ever what kind of impact I Am Young Detroit was really having, as many of the supporters of my new projects were originally supporters of the blog.
Even with setbacks, the last few years have been amazing as I've had the continued support of the local and national community that have made me feel valued; that the work I'm doing isn't just "cool" but important, which I am still shocked -- yet honored and humbled by. If there's one thing that Detroit has given me, it's the spirit of resiliency as I still maintain that vision and have faith that if it's in God's will for me, I'll live to see it come to life regardless of what obstacles stand in the way. I'm grateful for my life and the lessons it's afforded me so far and know that my story isn't unique, there's a gazillion other young, struggling entrepreneurs just like me. I get to engage with them everyday, young Detroiters like myself who are broke, living off of Ramen, and diving head first into the unknown. So here's to you young Detroit innovators, gamechangers, and aspiring changemakers: Embrace the possibility of success, ignore the haters and naysayers, and continue to forge your own path...you are the future of this city, you are 'Young Detroit!'
Find out more about I Am Young Detroit 2.0 in the video below:
This year I Am Young Detroit plans to launch I Am Young Detroit 2.0 and is currently in the running for Detroit Harmonie's $5,000 People's Choice Award which will be awarded to one of eleven social entrepreneurial organizations that has the most active following in Detroit. Find more information about voting here.
Follow Margarita Barry on Twitter: www.twitter.com/margaritabarry