Detroit is not a "blank slate" ready to be redrawn. This city pulses on deep, strong veins made up of so many people that never left. Even after the fall of the auto empire, even after the flight to the suburbs, even after Detroit was blasted as the "murder capital of the world," even after the media didn't give a damn anymore, this city remained and its people remained. They continued to wake up in the morning, go to work, not go to work, walk their dogs, feed their families, love their children, etc.
The Detroit I live in today is one that is drenched in the "revitalization" rhetoric of the media. What that looks like is a sudden surge of transplants that live among the locals. Because the dominant culture of our nation is white, affluent, and educated, there is suddenly little voice lent to those who are not all of the above. This raises a gamut of questions, especially ones that start with "Why?"
For example, "Why did you come here?"
This question is important to ask because a "revitalization" of the city alludes to the sense of social justice that lies within those who have come to help Detroit, its infrastructure, and the people that live here. I just read an article that I think is relevant because it talks about the motivations of those aspiring to be social justice allies; it's from the NASPA Journal, 2006, Vol. 43. no. 4 called "Aspiring Social Justice Ally Identity Development: A Conceptual Model" by Keith E. Edwards. The article lists out three motivators of social justice allies that I will summarize for the brevity's sake. The first is out of self-interest: Someone I know has been a victim and I am here to help them because I have the power to do so. The second is out of altruism: I feel guilty about my privilege and I have the power to help; I will work for the members of this victimized group because I am an exception to the system (this ultimately perpetuates the system because it creates a sense of otherness by distancing oneself from privilege). The last thread stems out of the development of social justice: These are my people and I seek empowerment and liberation for us all.
Where do I fall in this spectrum? And how can I do this right?
How do I identify myself as an ally for social justice in my new community?
And then, how can I make sure we all have a voice?
What I have learned so far, in three years of living in this city, is that all of these questions take a long time to answer. Creating a space and a time to hear everyone's voice (including a time of rest and reflection in hearing my own) does not happen within a deadline. But, I think the most important lesson I've learned so far is that my students are my people. As we grow as a unit, a family, a force, we will work towards a lasting revitalization. One that is rooted in the community that has stayed; one that is rooted in hope and love for each other.
This is the beginning of long journey for me as I develop my identity as a social justice ally in the city of Detroit. In this time, I urge you to continue the conversation with me or with your people.
Amy Berkhoudt is the co-director of the Detroit Food and Entrepreneurship Academy.
The Detroit Food and Entrepreneurship Academy seeks to inspire, empower, and activate young Detroiters as solution-based thinkers in their communities. This is a video of our students selling out of their hand-made food products at the Eastern Market in Detroit, MI: