The power of Detroit

It has been exactly two months since I arrived to Detroit. Writing from my desk, leaning back and exhaling a long sigh, after all this time running myself into the ground, I take a minute for myself… Yeah, how did I get here?

When Atlas Corps and America Solidaria selected me for a double fellowship I was super excited and honored. But being honest, weeks after that, when I read Detroit, my face probably unconsciously grimaced. Instantly I was trying to mentally recall something that would give me a clue of what I would find there. The next step was probably frowning; snow, gray and cars were the three words that first appeared in my mind. Do I really want to be there for one year? I wished someone had been there to tell me now how expressive my gestures were (as they have been forever).

Time was running out, my interview was quickly approaching and I only had time to look into the website of my potential host organization for the next twelve months. Its work is amazing, integral, and above all, humane and focused on people`s needs. I wanted to serve with them! But still, go back, girl. Do you want to be in Detroit? Life is short to be so cold. Is this position good for you?  Perhaps it doesn’t really fit with what you want to do. Being unsure of what I was doing, I had the interview and I was accepted the very same day.

Something on me was still afraid, and suddenly I received an email with the most inspiring, warm and encouraging message that I needed: “Let me know what I can do to help you make this decision. Detroit is an amazing city full of people who don’t give up and a creative and innovative spirit that really drives the city forward. There is so much we can show you here.” I just needed that. A spark on me went on and I just wanted to know everything about the city and its people.

I immediately asked Google and spent a couple of hours on my findings. The bankruptcy of Detroit on July 2013 was on the top news, and that it has been one of the most violent cities in the US. Ooopa! I thought: Keep researching, it should have a really interesting history. And yes, I discovered the French origin of Detroit and its name meaning, something like “narrow city”; there was a major industrialization of this Grand Lake City of Southeast Michigan containing the headquarters of Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors; the 1967 Detroit uprising, the crisis, the later abandonment of the city and massive emigration to the suburbs. Well, I am Mexican –I said to myself– Yeah, I won´t have any problem, violence and crisis are common words in my country too.

Then I jumped into the good news, it was not hard to find articles illustrating all the good things occurring in Detroit, the creative and inspiring people in the city –just as Melanie said in her email–; the ones that never left the city, the ones that are coming back, the ones that are moving from other states, from other countries. The people that simply trust Detroit, that believes in the power of developing and supporting community for the better life of everyone. Bien sûr! I really want to be there and contribute to this supreme community spirit. That day, I started telling my friends that I was going soon; I was surprised with their familiarity with Detroit when they told me about the cultural and musical soul of the city. Why didn´t I know that before? I was instantly ready to prepare my luggage.

Now, it has been exactly two months after I arrived to Detroit, I need to repeat that because it sounds so long. Since I am here, it is reasonable to be meeting many people, most of them curious about the reasons that brought me: Why Detroit? How do you like the cold? It is going to be worse. Do you feel unsafe, what did you know about the city before coming, where are you living (important if you live in the Detroit area or the suburbs), do you have a car (this is Motor City, come on!), have you been here or there?

Some of my answers: I thought cold was going to be challenging, but not yet, indeed I am enjoying it. I miss being able to walk and use public transportation (Motor City, again, there is no subway or good buses). But overall, the more I know the city, the more convinced I am that it has the warmest people in the US.

After listening to this, people smile, and tend to agree and reaffirm why they are here. They all are concerned about the bad things that are said about Detroit, because they have a deep faith in how it is getting better and this is just the beginning. Indeed, I feel privileged being in my host organization, Southwest Economic Solutions, which is doing an amazing job promoting equitable and sustainable economic development. Since 2012, its program ProsperUS has been empowering low and moderate income, immigrant and minority individuals to support the entrepreneurial spirit and small business in Detroit’s neighborhoods. As a lot of people say, there is no better place right now than Detroit for start-ups, businesses, ideas and innovation.

As for me, I cannot stop being grateful for the warm welcome that I have been experienced through the organizations that brought me here and from all the people I have met. There isn´t any single day that I don´t feel the solidarity of Detroit´s people. I don´t have any morning in which I don´t breathe the hope of the city that comes to my nose and lungs with the fresh and cold air. Once I look back to the way that brought me here, I can tell I promised myself to carry three sayings. The first one, “Solidarity”, as it reminds me of the time and deep reflections with my fellow Fellows of America Solidaria. The second one, “Welcoming Spirit” as it was the one I chose to bring at the end of my training with Atlas Corps. And the third one, “Hope”, since I knew years ago that it is as important as food, water, sun and air. And those three things, to me, are the meaning of the power of Detroit. Yes I am here, and I am in the right place.