Detroit, or There and Back Again (Again)

The current chapter of my life might as well be called “Detroit, or There and Back Again (Again).”

I was born and raised in Detroit. I lived downtown for the first thirteen years of my life, up until my family was forced to move when they closed down our apartment building. I went to Burton International (what’s now the Corktown Cinema) from 1st to 8th grade, and probably would’ve attended Cass Tech if we hadn’t moved to Warren, a neighboring suburb. But even after moving, I continued to hang out and work there before finally leaving Michigan in 2004.

I spent a few years in Santa Cruz, California, before settling down in Portland, Oregon. I loved almost everything about the West Coast, from the people and scenery, to the culture and atmosphere. I felt like I’d found myself out there, and things were going great until I got laid off just before Christmas at the end of 2010.

The first eight months of 2011 were spent looking for another job to no avail, and I finally decided to visit my friends and family back in Michigan while I had the extra time. Depressed about the way things were going, I thought some time away would be good for me. I was planning on only staying for about a month, but ended up staying for four, having some incredible and life-changing experiences along the way. I went back to Portland briefly, only to find myself back in Michigan less than two months later.

So here I am, again, watching the city I grew up in struggling to stave off bankruptcy and the appointment of an emergency financial manager in the middle of a spirited yet fragile renaissance; watching the local Occupy movement evolve, grow, and do things like help save local businesses and people’s homes; and watching some of my closest friends try to be a part of Detroit’s revival, building a home for themselves, as well as a new centre for their community of friends.

In some ways, my time in, as well as away from, Detroit has given me a unique perspective on all of this — a somewhat detached vantage point from which to look upon these events and compare them to the city of my youth — and to be honest, I like what I’m seeing. Despite all of Detroit’s problems and challenges (and there’s certainly no shortage of those), I see green shoots of hope and progress everywhere.

In the local Occupy movement, for example, I see a whole new generation of activists getting involved in their community, revitalizing Detroit’s revolutionary spirit and returning to more community-based activism and organizations directed towards fighting things like economic injustice and poverty. I see new businesses springing up, like the new Element Electronics TV factory, which will be the only TV company assembling TVs in the US. And more importantly, I see people who are truly passionate about making Detroit a great city again.

I’ll be honest, I was happy to get out of Michigan and away from Detroit, from the desolation, animosity, and oppressiveness that for me characterized the city I once called home. I felt freer and more alive that I had in years, and couldn’t wait to get back to my new home on the West Coast whenever my yearly two week visits were up. But this time it’s different. This time, I find myself thoroughly enjoying my extended visits here. I’m not only reconnecting with old friends and making new ones, I’m being inspired to get involved in ways that I never expected, from my participation with Occupy Detroit in my previous visit, to helping renovate a house that was built in 1899 this time around.

Being here, now, I can feel the difference. The change in the atmosphere is palpable. Even more surprising to me, however, is that I feel like I’m part of the community again, and that it’s a community worth being a part of—something I haven’t felt for a long, long time. The Rose City may be my home now, but the Motor City will always be my home away from home.

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