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June – My Sense Is

June is finally seeing the sun and I am feeling the warm air. Eastern Market is all the rage and the activity in the city is at an all-time high since I’ve moved downtown. It is truly wonderful to see so many people roll in for Slow Roll, smell the food trucks while out on lunch breaks, hear musicians busking on the street, and have the sun shine on my shoulders. I have loved Detroit since before I moved here, but this summer is really putting my senses to the test in the best way.

June Recap

Events

-        Cornerstone Charter Schools Partner Morning – event hosted by Lincoln King Academy

-        Dave Matthews Band – concert held at DTE Energy Music Theater*

-        Detroit Institute of Music (DIME) – impromptu gig held at their space on Woodward

-        Detroit Princess Night Cruise – boat tour on the Detroit River

-        Detroit Soup – soup held in Jefferson East at Coffee and (___)

-        Detroit Tigers vs. Boston Red Sox – home game at Comerica Park

-        Downtown Hoedown – event held at Comerica Park

-        Emergence Conference with ACDC – event held at Virgil H Carr Cultural Arts Center

-        Needtobreathe – concert held at The Filmore Detroit

-        The Big Give: LifeBuilders – Challenge Detroit Service Activity with LifeBuilders

Restaurants

-        Chazzano Coffee Roast

-        Coffee and (___)

-        Organico Juice Bar*

-        Papas Pizza

-        Ray’s Ice Cream*

-        Stella Café

-        Supino Pizzeria

-        Zenith

Bars

-        Cheli’s Chili Bar

-        Comet Bar

Notable Work Spaces

-        Detroit Future City

-        Detroit Institute of Music (DIME)

-        LifeBuilders

-        Teen H.Y.P.E. Youth Development Office

-        Virgil H Carr Cultural Arts Center

Please note: events & places marked with * were attended outside of the Detroit area

Summer in the D

July is finally here, marking the beginning of my last official month with Challenge Detroit. It’s bittersweet that I’ll have to say goodbye to this chapter of my life very soon. Despite this, I find some comfort in knowing that although I have to say goodbye to Challenge Detroit soon, I won’t have to truly say goodbye to Detroit, for Detroit is home.

During the month of July, we will transition into the final stages of the Challenge Detroit program by participating in individual impact projects. For this, each fellow has chosen their own unique way to impact the Detroit community. Some fellows will be working with various non-profit organizations of their choice while others will be impacting our city by doing unique things such as creating a Detroit event. As for me, I will be working with Southwest Solutions/Wayne State University’s Harris Literacy Program and Adult Learning Lab. Southwest Solutions is located in Southwest Detroit, which became one of my favorite parts of Detroit from the moment I stepped foot there.

This organization is dedicated to providing a variety of different services to community members, including English as a Second Language (ESL) and General Eduational Development (GED) classes. For the next month, I will be working with this organization in order to help their current data system become more efficient and improved.

Other than that, I have just been trying to soak up the sun and enjoy my summer in Detroit before the cold weather decides to hit our entire region again.

Adios for now! See ya soon!

Endings and New Beginnings

My last full month with my host company and Challenge Detroit was great. I finally experienced Detroit and the surrounding area with beautiful summer weather! My fiancée also began her Teach for America summer institute training. She will be spending 5 weeks in Chicago preparing for her job in Southwest Detroit teaching 11th grade math. She is dedicated to working in the city and helping educate its youth so that they can help create a better Detroit.

 

Working toward my goal

My fiancée’s first week of training took place downtown Detroit, and it was amazing exploring the city with her. One of my main goals when I started Challenge Detroit was to bring my family and friends into the city to explore and discover new places. I made great strides toward that goal this month!

 

First step

Challenge Detroit tasked each fellow to create a specific goal of something to work toward and to start working toward it with your first step. My goal was to lose weight, become healthier, and feel fit. Since I began working in an office setting, I gained about 20lbs. Despite being very active in college, once I began working at my host company, I gained weight fast. As the weather improved, I made it my goal to get outside more and eat better. Since January, I have lost the 20 pounds that I gained and I hope to continue to improve my health through a better diet and exercise.

 

Moving forward

I was thankfully admitted into Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine and will hopefully be starting medical school in August. Along with my future wife, we hope to partner with the great people and organizations in the city to improve the health and education of Detroit.

It’s Still Alive They’re Just Concealing It

 

Today, I was at the World Cup viewing party that took place at Campus Martius. And to my surprise I was slapped with a stereotype that no matter how hard I try, or how far my career takes me, I feel that I will never be able to escape.

Let me give you a little back story of why I decided to spend the hour or so at the viewing party. I heared that there is a World Cup viewing party at Campus Martius, and I tell my friend, ”this will be the perfect place for me to experience the Downtown Detroit energy.” I decided to ride my bike to the festivities and park it at the Chase building, which is located across the street from Campus Martius.

After an eventful first half, in which I seen some of Tim Howard’s most eventful saves, I decided that I could not deal with the up and down emotions in public. So, I decided to watch the second half from the comforts of my own home. As I was unlocking my bike from the bike rack located outside of the Chase building, I noticed a guy running full speed right at me. When he finally approached me, still trying to catch his breath he uttered, “Is that your bike?” I did not feel that the question deserved a response, but seeing that there were also two other people taking bikes off the bike racks I replied to the silly question “Yes, it is!” I was hoping that me answering the question in a timely manner would allow him to ask the other two individuals that were also at the bike rack that very same question before they were able to ride away. Needless to say that never happened!

Once I answered the question of “Is that your bike?” he sent a rebuttal my way asking, “Are you sure?” At that point I had enough of his line of questioning, so I decided to just ride away. But before I could paddle twice I notice two Quicken Loans security guards approaching me at full speed. “Sir, get off the bike” said the first security guard to reach me. As I took one foot off the bike I replied, “This is my bike and I will not be getting off.” Now surrounded by three security guards focused on proving that this is not my bike, I decide to use my college education and turn this into an argument. Not an argument that they would normally expect from a common bike thief, but an argument as a coherent series of statements leading from a premise to a conclusion.

Premise one: The lock is still on the bike and shows no signs of being tampered with.

Premise two: I still have a key in my hand that unlocks the lock that is currently on this bike.

Conclusion: This must be my bike lock on this bike.

“If that conclusion is true then it is not farfetched to believe that this is my bike!”

To my surprise the first response that came from one of the Quicken Loans’ security guards was, “Where is the other bike lock?” Now I realize that I have to respond in a way that will make me the angry black guy, which will probably cause cameras to get pulled out, and I might just make it on the internet. Then something that my Grandma Louise always told me came to the front of my mind. She would always say, “Don’t get caught arguing with a foolish person, because people from a distance can’t tell which one of you is the fool.” And that is what I felt I was faced with, three fools trying to lure me into their foolishness. Instead I constructed a logical response in my head, but before I could speak it the initial security guard stated that the lock on the bike was the only lock that I had.

Once again the three of them look at each other and in an upbeat tone one of them said, “Ay, that’s a nice bike.” Now everything is supposed to be upbeat and forgotten. I can’t take back the last 5 minutes of my life that I had to deal with this tomfoolery, and at this point I just want to exit this circle that they have formed around me as quickly as possible. Then the security guard that looked like me spoke. Possibly seeing the look on my face, and trying to defuse the thinking that was going on within my head, he stated, “Don’t take it personal.” To which I asked him to repeat himself. I heard what he said very clearly, but I was thrown back by the first words out of his mouth to me being not to take it personal. He responded to my request, “Don’t take it personal…people have been stealing bikes around here.” As bad as I wanted to leave the circle, I felt that I had to stay and let him know why I do take it personal.

I said, “There were two other people at that bike rack. I have no idea who they are but I can tell you that I was the only non-white person there. This guy runs full speed at me and asks me about my bike.” At that point the initial security guard leaves the scene. And I continued, “There might have very well been a bike stolen within the last 5 to 7 minutes but you will not catch them because you did not bother to focus on anyone but me…How is it that I get the attention of three of you and neither of you even asked the other two guys if the bike that they had were theirs? So do not tell me not to take it personal because it is…It is personal because of how I personally look, and the prejudices that exist in your heads of a person that looks like me. You made it personal and you have to live with that.”

As I began to ride away I realized that they were still trying to gather a response, so I stayed to listen. Honestly, I was waiting for an apology, but what I received was a lot better. One of them said, “that’s a nice lock. Is that the bulletproof one? Where did you get that from?” I told him where I got it from as I rode away. That was the best response that he come up with, even after I just informed him of a group mistake that he was involved in. It reaffirmed to me that an ignorant person that does not want to know can no longer be considered ignorant. At that point the ignorant person is just foolish. And I was right not to get into a verbal sparring match with this foolish person.

Racism as defined by Merriam Webster’s Dictionary “discrimination against a person or persons based on their race.” It’s still alive they’re just concealing it. And the racist are not even doing a good job at concealing it anymore. Gandhi once said “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” They are making it hard for the non-racist people in this world to come together. As for me, I’m not ignorant to the fact that not all people of a certain race are racist. And I pray that any person out there that has experienced similar treatment does not lose their faith. We are all in this battle together, and if you need someone to assist you along this journey you do not have to look any further.

Uncompromised

 

One aspect of myself that I have grown into more since I’ve moved to Detroit is becoming uncompromised in some things in my life that I staunchly believe in. Just to cover all basis, being uncompromising is not always a good thing, in most situations I could argue it is a negative attribute. It can lead to the closed-mindedness and lack of flexibility that squashes innovation. But it is a balance, like most things, and I find being headstrong to be personally empowering, as it is not something I have historically pursued. I have a personality that has been labeled “nice,” “kind,” “agreeable,” “laid back,” and “amiable.” All good things, but when that is a major part of your personality, it can be difficult to defend your opinions for more than a minute or two. Being challenging to others is something I’ve had to learn to do over time and does not come naturally for me at all. Detroit has made me more comfortable in challenging others, and it’s been good for me.

 

In the course of the past ten months, I have become more uncompromising in my opinions on two subjects: feminism and Detroit. I have always been a feminist, which I define as believing in equal rights for all sexes, however, I have just now felt comfortable not only defending this concept but actively pointing out occurrences of sexism in my day-to-day life. I do the same thing for Detroit now. When I point out feminism or defend Detroit on a daily basis, opposing viewpoints really come out of the woodwork. I know which of my friends don’t believe there is a wage gap or that girls are actively discouraged from pursuing math and engineering. I know which of my friends don’t care what I say about Detroit, and will continue to “be afraid” of coming here. That’s okay though. I don’t expect everyone to be 100% open to new ideas or read up on the history of Detroit. But I do think that integrating feminism and Detroit into my personality makes the people around me think about these two things more often and more seriously. To me, integrating these into my day-to-day has not only given these concepts a voice in my social circles but it is also a non-threatening venue to educate others. I can provide actual, real-time examples of sexism and back it up with research or theory. I can combat certain stigmas of Detroit and back it up with actual and relevant Detroit success stories. It is powerful to have knowledge and the ability to communicate that knowledge; people will listen to you.

eMERGEence

A few weeks ago, the Association for Community Design hosted their annual conference in Detroit. The theme to this years conference was eMERGEenc, and my proposal was selected to present during the Community Design Round Up Session on Friday of the Conference.  Only being familiar with the organization through social media and their online presence, it was great to be able to put faces to names and really see who the community is, both locally and nationally, that make up this Community Design community.

The conference was 4 days worth of wonderful networking events, great speakers and presentation, and tours of several Detroit neighborhoods. The guests ranged from students to much experienced individuals in the profession… and big name firms to freelance designers. But, no matter the individual, our shared passion for good, community oriented design was obvious.

Being held in Detroit, and sponsored by previous challenge partner, The Detroit Collaborative Design Center, the conference touched in depth on the revitalization effort and the role community design is playing in the process. However, by no means were our conversations limited to the city of Detroit, or even cities in General. One break out session I attended discussed natural disaster remediation issues in Kingston, NC. While  there were lessons learned in the NC precedent that were obviously applicable to Detroit, issues you may find in the city, such as inclusivity of meeting locations, were irrelevant  to the discussion on NC.

While by no means can the benefits I gained from attending the event be summed up in words,  will leave you all with a few of my favorite bits from the event.

1. If you’re doing cool shit, people want to hear about it.. so talk about yourself.

2. Community design means designing WITH communities, not FOR communities.

3. Tripled bottom line businesses can be described like a spiral… made up of the steps align, gather, make, reflect, and share,  you grow outwardly as they are repeated… and its easier to see where you’ve been and where your going.

4. Silence is consent.

5. Good design is invisible, but good design process is transparent.

Summer in the D

Having lived in Ann Arbor before moving to Detroit, my wife and I are used to enjoying non-waterfront summer entertainment. Summers in Ann Arbor for us were spent playing sports, enjoying outdoor dining and watching free entertainment at the month-long Top of The Park festival. As good as we had it in Ann Arbor, I am happy to say that there is even more going on during the summer in Detroit. Here are just a few of the options that we have discovered so far.

New Center Park Summer Series

Not to outdone by Ann Arbor’s Top of the Park, the New Center Park Summer Series runs the entirety of June, July and August. Offerings include Wednesday night movies, Thursday night live music, and Saturday night dance parties. Best of all—the events are free of charge. We’ve got our eye on the Alice in Wonderland showing on July 16th.

Campus Martius Summer in the Park

In case you are more of a downtown dweller, there is no reason to miss out on the outdoor fun. The Campus Martius Summer in the Park Series is jam packed with activities too. Events range from music and movies to yoga and a beach bar. Also on the list this year is live streaming of the US’s World Cup soccer matches. Here’s hoping the US team gives our crowd plenty to cheer about.

Come Play Detroit

Come Play Detroit is Detoit’s organizer of amateur sports. While they do have winter leagues too, my preference has always been for outdoor sports. From basketball to softball and kickball, CPD has a league to appeal to all sports lovers. I myself have opted for their beach volleyball league. As such you will find me, and many of my fellow fellows, at the riverfront every Wednesday night defending our (currently) undefeated record.

So much more…

These activities really just represent the tip of the iceberg for ways to pass the summer nights in the city. There are many other good options to explore; restaurants with outdoor seating, baseball games at Comerica Park, and one of my new favorite pastimes, Detroit City Football Club matches at Cass Tech just to name a few. Whether you live here or something else pulls you in to Detroit over the summer one thing is for sure, you will never run out of options for things to do. What is your favorite summer pastime in the city?

Become a Mentor

It’s so easy to forget what really matters. With work and all that life brings its easy to forget to do the things that mean a lot to you. Serving others, especially the youth of the next generation, is something that I love to do. Back in April I became a big sister through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit. Big Brothers Big Sisters is an organization that provides one on one mentoring to youth. The idea is that children can reach their full potential if given the adequate support and guidance.

Making the decision to join this program has been amazing. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, but honestly just didn’t have the time to devote to. I feel like it was just yesterday that I was a teenager, and it’s interesting to hear all about what’s going on in the lives of today’s youth and the issues and obstacles they face. More importantly though throught this program I’ve had a chance to mentor and provide guidance to a beautiful and intelligent young lady who I know will go on to great things. Meeting up with her is never a chore; it’s so much fun, and I wish more people would take time out to mentor a young child in their community. Children truly are our future and what better way to shape it then to have an active role in a child’s life.

First Step

During a Challenge Detroit leadership Friday a few months ago the fellows were given the task of taking a ‘first step’ into something different and/or new. This could be anything from trying a new restaurant, to joining an organization or even exploring the idea of starting one’s own business. For my first step I decided to revisit an old passion of mine that I had neglected when I was away at college, musical theatre.

After conducting a late night Google search for open audition calls in the Metro Detroit area I came across an upcoming audition for Grosse Pointe Theatre’s (GPT) production of Les Miserables. I didn’t know anyone who was a member of this theatre group so as I drove to the audition I had no idea what to expect. Over 200 people came out to audition for Les Miserables and to add to the intensity, auditions were held on stage in front of everyone. When I received the call late one Monday night that I had received my dream role, Eponine, I was beyond ecstatic.

The month’s leading up to our opening night in May were filled with long rehearsals, new friendships and my realization of how much I missed theatre. Being able to sing and act again on stage and learn from other talented actors was one of my favorite parts of this whole experience. I was also able to perform in a flash mob and on WDIV’s program ‘Live in the D’ to promote our performance which were both incredible experiences.

wdiv group

Photo: Patricia A. Ellis

The cast of Les Miserables performed 14 shows total in the month of May. Pre-show dance parties in the dressing rooms, backstage rituals during the show, incredible audience members and sharing the stage with an incredible cast are memories I feel so lucky to have.

SONY DSC SONY DSC

Photo: Patricia A. Ellis

I am thankful for the task given to all Challenge Detroit fellows to take a ‘first step’ because I’ve not only reconnected with my passion for theatre, but I’ve also made incredible friends and memories.

les mis cast

Photo: Dale Pegg

 

-Meagen

Reality?

I am a girl who likes to see the glass half full. A girl who sees the sky as partly sunny not partly cloudy. A girl who tries to be optimistic in the worst times. That might be the reason that I have found myself in the place I am now. I see Detroit as a beautiful city filled with wonderful people and handsome opportunity. However, recently I had a conversation about reality. Which got me thinking, what is reality?

According to Google, reality is “the world or the state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.”

Yes, indeed I do see the rougher side of things. The side of misrepresented or misunderstood people, the side of greed, anger and crime – just to name a few of the things that Detroit has. But that does not mean that I should ignore what’s beautiful.
I live in a beautiful world where the trees, grass, flowers and buildings around me are all works of art. People, whether tall, small, Caucasian, African American or Indian – we are all human and wonderful. Our laughter, our cries, our fears and our hopes make us all simply beautiful. As one who is constantly told to “be realistic,” I would like to say just because I see the bad and the good does not mean I do not live in reality.
Reality is complex and has both good and bad – and I think that, in Detroit, we are constantly reminded of the hardships, but need to also remind ourselves of the good.

photo 3

 


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