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Thank you, Challenge Detroit

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I’ve been a Challenge Detroit fellow for 4 months now.  I cannot believe how quickly the time is going.  It is even weirder to think back to the day that I applied for the first round of the fellowship.  I didn’t think that I stood a chance of actually being selected.  It is surreal to be living it now.  It’s a good reminder for me not to take this experience foregranted.

I know that as the year approaches an end, I’ll remember this time period – when I still had so much of the Fellowship year left to go.  I’m sure I will reflect on how well I lived the experience.  My hope is that I will be able to say that I immersed myself in it – that I got to know my co-fellows, that I did my best at my host company and in the challenges, that I tried a lot of new things and pushed myself to go to events, even when I was tired. I’m relieved to know that I still have time to make the fellowship what I want it to be.

Another reflection I have about this topic is that my acceptance into this fellowship has shown me that  I am capable of being accepted into the programs I apply for.  While it always seems like someone else will “get it” (my feeling throughout my Challenge Detroit application process), we really can be the people who get selected.  I am going to do my best to remember this lesson as I continue to apply/try for things.

So, thank you Challenge Detroit – for seeing something in me, for giving me the opportunity to be a part of all of the cool things the fellowship has to offer and for inspiring me to be optimistic about my future endeavors.

 

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Three

Hannah at Dequindre Cut

Fun at Dequindre Cut

I am not one to quickly adjust to anything and moving to Detroit to start my postgrad life was no exception. Each month I get to present you with snapshots of my life in this storied city and most of the time they are far from grand. For the most part I am alright with that. For me this journey is about progress. So much has changed since I wrote to you about my first and second months. I can only imagine what 2015 has in store for me. With progress in mind, I am going to share with you the biggest success and the biggest challenge I experienced in my third month here.

This is an exercise we do weekly at HelloWorld, my Challenge Detroit host company.

My Biggest Challenge
I struggled most with honesty during my third month here. Honesty about Detroit and knowing when it is appropriate for me to express what I know to be true about my life here.  I am new to this city. I would need a lifetime to understand the complex layers of legislation and inequity that have combined to create the Detroit we know today. Yet I still feel that it is important to share my experiences. All of them. From my car being stolen to the shooting that took place a few blocks from my home. I subscribe to a daily crime report. If you live in Detroit, I think you should too. These are scary stories to tell, but we need to be honest about this city. If we do not paint an accurate picture of this city for outsiders, the wrong people will move here. People that are unaware of the challenges facing this city and as a result ill equipped to address them in a meaningful manner. So let’s be honest. There is a lot more going on here than pop-up holiday shops and artisan coffee and all of it matters.

My Biggest Success
Getting to know Alyssa, Jon, and Zeke was the highlight of my November.  For the second challenge I was placed on the Storytelling & Video Team with these fellows. At the start of our 5 week project I was a mess of nerves. I had no idea how we were going to make a video that would highlight the wonderful mission of Vehicles for Change, our nonprofit partner. Yet as our plans and the project progressed, I found myself immersed in a work environment abundant with sincerity and enthusiasm. The work was hard, but I so thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with my group that 5 hours of editing 3 nights in a row flew by. I was exhausted each morning during that final push, but not discouraged. I owe all of that to my team. Check out our final video below.

There are Birds Here.

It’s that time of year again. That’s right, college application season! The time for graduating high school seniors to pan over the 7,000+ post-secondary institutions in this country, select the best options for them and make their 300-word case for why they should be allowed to continue their education.

On a Thursday morning in early November, I had the opportunity to play my part in the application process by volunteering to help Detroit Edison Public School Academy’s (DEPSA) graduating seniors with their personal statements for the 2014 College Application Week.

There, I met a young woman who had spent the summer withstanding the barrage of concerned questions and underhanded insults thrown at her after casually stating “Oh, I’m from Detroit” to peers at a Harvard Summer Program. She is applying to attend Boston University for Journalism with the hopes of learning how to deter the negativity and portray her home in a positive light.

There, I met a young man who instead of being excited to open his Christmas presents as a child, looked forward to taking them apart to figure out how they work. His late grandfather, a male role model in place of his incarcerated father, had been an engineer and left an entire workshop to him in the basement of their Detroit home. He is applying to be a mechanical engineer at one of the prominent engineering programs in the state.

This opportunity reminded me that There Are Birds Here waiting to spread their wings and take flight.

 

Family, Fun, and Music: November Monthly Check In

This month’s check in comes a little late, my apologizes!

November was a busy month for me. With the Thanksgiving holiday, I had the opportunity to see family I don’t get to see often. It was great to see them and a reminder to me how cool my cousins are! Having been away for three years, I’ve missed my younger cousins as they’ve grown up. Now that I live close to them once again, I’m excited to spend quality time with them.

When I was a growing up, my uncles were great mentors without me even knowing it. They would take me to the movies, we would play soccer, and they were generally positive male role models. Being the older sibling, it was nice to have my uncles act as “big brothers”. Now that I’ve grown up and everything, it’s my opportunity to give back and take on a similar role with my younger cousins. I am excited about that.

Beyond great family time, I had some great, first-time Detroit experiences.
I tried Detroit Vegan Soul for the first time. For those of you who haven’t been there, I highly recommend it!

Try the pepper steak and vanilla ice cream.

 

Also, through our Challenge Detroit partnerships, I had the opportunity to see my first orchestra performance. With my other fellows, I watched a wonderful performance at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. They put on a great show. The music filled the room and I could feel it hit me. It was awesome! I’m grateful for Challenge to provide that opportunity for us.

New Years Eve in Detroit

Many people in Michigan (myself included), have either gone to a friend’s party, a local town club, or more often than not, New York or Chicago for New Years. Going to NY or the CHI can be very expensive plane tickets included, and you can get all of the same perks, and more by just heading to Detroit. There are dozens events across the city, but I wanted to highlight 4 of them that I think you should consider.

1). The 5th Annual Motor City New Year’s Eve –“The Drop”

2013

2013

Location: Campus Martius Park, Cadiallac Square and the surrounding area

Price: FREE.99
Time: 4PM-1AM – Activities begin at 4:00pm

What to do:

LIVE ENTERTAINMENT ON TWO STAGES:
Main stage: Entertainment will be provided by DJ Tom T and Some of Metro Detroit’s Favorite Local Bands. Tent Stage: Heated Tent with a 2nd stage will also include live entertainment line-up. The Drop festivities will now feature a new mega-sized heated tent that will host the Tent Stage with live & DJ entertainment, a 40′ Full Bar w/ Cocktails, Selected Beers and non-alcoholic beverages. You can step in to take the chill off or enjoy the surrounding fire pits.

KIDS ZONE & KIDS’ DROP:
At 4pm the 2015 Kids Zone starts games, activities, kids karaoke, musical entertainment, face painting, carriage rides and the highlight of the afternoon – the Kids’ Drop at 6:30pm! This special edition of The Drop designed for younger revelers with early bedtimes. Of course the main featured event The Drop is at midnight.

DETROIT EATS:
Local restaurants, vendors & food trucks will be on-site offering a variety of your favorite Detroit Eats!

Last year this event had over 12,000 people, and  they are shooting for 15,000 this year. Use Uber promo code “MotorCityNYE” for $25 off a ride during the event, if it’s your first ride with Uber, so convenient I know…

2) . The Fillmore Theatre: Resolution Ball

2013

2013

Location: The Fillmore Theatre
Price: Party Passes start at $95
Size: 1700 people

The Resolution Ball is one of the largest in the Midwest. Entertainment includes high-wire acrobats and roving illusionists, as well as DJ Tommy Holiday. The Ball also features a midnight buffet with pizza, sliders and Coneys; a Champagne toast; a balloon drop; and six big screens tuned to Times Square. Dress is black tie optional.

 

3). Detroit Symphony Orchestra: New Year’s Eve

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Location: Detroit Symphony Orchestra Hall
Price: Concert-only portion of evening starts at $40 / Gala Benefit at $175
Time:  Gala benefit starts at 8PM and the Concert at 10 PM

For the first time in its 127-year history, the DSO will ring in 2015 with a televised black tie New Year extravaganza in partnership with Detroit Public Television! Led by DSO Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik, the orchestra will perform an evening of New Orleans Jazz, Motown, and Viennese favorites featuring the legendary Byron Stripling on trumpet and vocals as well as Bobby Floyd on B3 Hammond organ and piano. When the clock strikes midnight, guests are invited to sing along with a full orchestral performance of Auld Lang Syne!

4). Detroit Princess Riverboat: “Rock the Boat” Cruise

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Location: Downtown Detroit (On the River as you probably could have guessed)
Time: Board at 8 PM / Cruise at 10 PM

What to do: The Detroit Princess Riverboat celebrates the New Year with music, dancing, a dinner buffet with Prime Rib, a Champagne toast, and, of course, cruising. DJ “Lightning Rod and “Captain Sky” will spin old school, dance and top-40 music or you take in a live show by the Prolifics.

Individual couples and small groups welcome. Space fills up fast and is sold on a first come first serve basis. Call the ticket office  at 877-338-2628 or email at information@detroitprincess.com for more details.

 

These are all excellent events to check out. I know I am looking forward to my first New Years in Detroit.

 

Who listens to records anymore?

As someone who has worked retail way too long, I am morally opposed to the battle that ensues in malls and Best Buys across America on the day after Thanksgiving known as Black Friday. Some people I worked with would love the adrenaline that came along with dealing with insane women screaming at each other over who was in line first in case Victoria’s Secret ran out of every single one of the tote bags stocked with beauty sampleslargeright before they got to the registers. I remember being bitter every year as I either skipped my delicious family meal or had to eat and run in order to get a couple hours of sleep in before I had to be at the mall by midnight to let the savages barrel past me for $25 yoga pants as I opened the store’s gate. So no, I did not participate in Black Friday shopping this past week, my first Thanksgiving out of retail.

But at 8:45 in the morning I did find myself standing outside of Dearborn Music, along with a bunch of other vinyl-loving hipster fanatics to participate in Record Store Day. So really, I’m no better than the guy with his tent tied up in the Best Buy parking lot, or the woman I saw at the mall a couple years ago carrying a fake baby so that people wouldn’t shove her. But whatever, I wanted the limited-edition American Hustle soundtrack and Against Me!’s Daytrotter Sessions 7″.

In celebration of Record Store day, which happens twice a year (originally just on the third Saturday of April and now it’s become a Black Friday thing as well) I’m going to highlight my top five record stores in the Detroit/metro Detroit area.

People’s Records

4100 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201

Right next door to the Magic Stick, hiding in the same building as a yoga studio. People’s Records will grace you with hours of digging. Every genre is covered, and there are more 45s than you can even find the time to dig through in one trip. Their emphasis is on used vinyl, and there’s a whole room of dollar records. Take an afternoon, grab a slice of Sgt. Pepperoni’s, and check out People’s Records.

Most recent finds: The Psychedelic Furs’ “Talk Talk Talk,” Led Zeppelin’s “Led Zeppelin IV”

Hello Records
1459 Bagley Ave, Detroit, MI 48216

Quentin Tarantino has allegedly checked this place out when he’s been in town, and if it’s good enough for Tarantino, it’s definitely good enough for me. Hello Records also focuses on used vinyl, with a huge jazz and R&B section. I’ve been really impressed with their amount of new wave, because a good selection of ’80s new wave has been tough to find in this area.

Most recent finds: Stray Cats’ “Rant n’ Rave,” and Prince and the Revolution’s “Around the World in a Day”

Found Sound
234 W 9 Mile Rd, Ferndale, MI 48220

Only about two years old, Found Sound has a decent selection of new releases and reissues along with their selection of used records. Almost every genre is accounted for, and it’s unbelievably easy to navigate. Not to mention that the staff is super helpful. If you can’t find something you’re looking for, they have no problem attempting to order it for you.

Most recent finds: Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” Brand New’s “The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me”

Stormy Records
13936 Michigan AveDearborn, MI 48126

Every time I go to Stormy Records, I drive past it the first time. Hidden upstairs from Green Brain Comics (so if you’re into those too, it’s definitely worth the trip), their main focus is on used vinyl, lots of classic rock. There is a small selection of new releases, but their used stuff is much more impressive. In addition to records, they also carry a lot of CDs and cassette tapes as well.

Most recent finds: Motley Crue’s “Too Fast for Love,” The Doors’ self titled

Dearborn Music
22501 Michigan AveDearborn, MI 48124

My parents brought me here years ago, before I even started collecting records and I fell in love. The used selection is huge, the new selection is huge,  there are CDs, cassettes, DVDs and Blu-Rays, and enough kitschy Beatles and Marilyn Monroe stuff to satisfy any collector. I could say more, but really, just go check out Dearborn Music if you like music at all. There’ll be something for you.

Most recent finds: Green Day’s “Tune in, Tokyo,” The “American Hustle” soundtrack, Jack White’s “Will You Fight For My Love?” 45, Against Me!’s “Daytrotter Sessions.”

There are so many more charming record stores in metro-Detroit, but I’m already way past my word count. Do you have a favorite place not on this list? Leave it in the comments!

Detroit is the Perfect Place to Shop Local

Small Business Saturday is a nationally celebrated event originally created by American Express to encourage us all to support our neighbors the day after Black Friday – and of course, all year round.

American Express got in on the Detroit lovin’ this year by having Detroit local businesses as the star of the 2014 campaign. It’s pretty sweet:

Needless to say, I wanted to get out there and do my part. I started the day off right with a hearty brunch from Grand Trunk Pub. Okay, I’ll admit, I had a mimosa…and a bloody mary. After your first one, they’re all a dollar! Who could resist? Anyway, we all tried something different and not surprisingly, every dish was scrumptious. Metropole sandwich, don’t mind if I do.

YUM

YUM

 

Then we scampered on over to the gem that is the Guardian Building to pick up our #shopsmall passport from Pure Detroit. Your passport is not only your guide to the shops you should check out, but offers a discount of 10 percent to 25 percent at every shop in the book. When you make a purchase at a location, you’re a proud owner of a stamp.

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The creator of the passport, Pure Detroit, is home to every Detroit-centric gift you could possibly imagine from food baskets filled with all your local favorites, to books, to purses made out of seatbelts (don’t take my word for it, go see how awesome these are for yourself).

We then ventured from downtown to Midtown where quite of few shops in the passport are located. First up was Nora, a modern design based shop for housewares like dishes, bath products, and textiles; relentlessly chic.

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Next door to Nora is a step back in time to a mod-inspired specialty shop called Hugh. Decidedly masculine in feel, but nonetheless appealing to those interested in browsing fabulous bar accessories, glassware, post-modern furniture and the like. It has a great atmosphere.
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Also in the Cass Corridor are two quaint sister-shops City Bird and Nest. While City Bird is home to Great Lakes, Michigan and Detroit inspired gifts and apparel, it also houses work from local artists and an enviable collection of greeting cards. I literally thought while shopping, “I’ll never go to Hallmark again.” Nest, in the storefront over, is home to all sorts of eclectic pieces like air plants, an owl lamp, or “Tame Your Mane” beard oil. Without a doubt, there is a gift patiently waiting at Nest to be the talk of someone’s family holiday party.

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The final two shops I visited could have very well been my entire bank account’s undoing: The Peacock Room and Frida, a set of sister shops located in the bottom of the gorgeous Park Shelton on Woodward. The Peacock Room is a decadent collection of new + vintage clothing and unbelievable accessories. Not the mention the antique furniture and one-of-a-kind bobbles. I LOVED it in there.

Frida is The Peacock Room’s more casual little sister where I spent most of my money…I couldn’t resist picking up a thing or two for myself there as well.  Aptly named after Frida Kahlo because Frida used to live in the building (how awesome), this boutique is full of the trendiest everyday pieces. No need to try to find an Urban Outfitters in Detroit – Frida does the trick.

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The entire day was busy, exhausting and fulfilling. The amount of people and traffic in all of the shops was encouraging – everyone out this past Saturday believes in Detroit and wants in on the action. Guess what? My sources at Pure Detroit say you can use your passport through January. Score.

 

Work & Play

The month of November was a busy one. Of course there’s the holiday season, but for me it’s been the fact that the company I’m working for: Campus Commandos, just released a new mobile app called “Go Commando”. The double entendre is…interesting? Regardless, we’ve had to work out a few bugs with the developers and take into consideration the negative reviews we’ve received in the App Store comment section, along with trying to sell it to current and potential clients. Nonetheless, any feedback is helpful, even if it’s negative.

Go Commando in the news:

http://fox17online.com/2014/08/14/students-go-commando-to-help-pay-for-college/

Go Commando in the App Store:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/go-commando/id918222927?ls=1&mt=8

In mid-November, amongst all the chaos and late nights, I let my CEO know about what Product Hunt is and that some of it’s core team members were going to be visiting Detroit for a night to hear a few startups pitch their newly released products to them in hopes of having the opportunity to get some exposure via Product Hunt.

For those of you unfamiliar with Product Hunt – it’s a curator of the best new products, every day. In other words, it’s a medium to discover the latest mobile apps, websites, and technology products that everyone’s talking about.

With that, we submitted our pitch and were selected as one of the three startups to pitch their newly released product that night. In our case, we were pitching “Go Commando”.

To my pleasant surprise, one of the core team members behind Product Hunt is also a founding member of the Detroit Rap City movement. Once all the pitches and Q&A’s were done, Detroit Rap City was also hosting a free of charge cypher event at DIME in downtown that same night.

The cypher was hands down one of the best events I’ve ever been to in Detroit – and it wasn’t at The Shelter. Anyone had the opportunity to step up and control the mic, and even I did. The wide variety of talent was refreshing though, some of the best underground freestyle artists you’ve never heard of were fluently dropping 36 bar verses consistently.

This night happened on a Challenge Detroit Friday, after working on the Vehicles For Change Challenge project, I went directly to the Product Hunt pitch event at the Madison Building and from there went to the cypher at DIME. This series of events made me realize you can truly work and play simultaneously in Detroit.

China and Detroit

The Chinese are coming to Detroit. At least, that’s what Forbes, Salon, NBC News and many other major outlets have reported. Most of these stories stem from a video that was circulated around CNTV in China in March of 2013. This video claims that houses in Detroit, “could be bought for the price of a pair of shoes” according to NBC’s translation.

An article in Forbes

An article in Forbes

The problem with these reports is that none of them cite any real facts. The closest thing I could find to actual data on the subject is an article in RISMedia that claims that one of China’s international real estate website says that Detroit is number four on it’s list of “cities that received the most interest from Chinese property hunters online”. To me, this news is not compelling or indicative of actual purchases from Chinese companies or citizens.

Michigan Radio has also looked into the claims that Chinese investors are buying up swaths of the Motor City and have come to the conclusion that while such reports are, “[...] very overhyped, there is a kernel of truth to it. There just seems to be a lot more curiosity and scouting than actual investment going on for now.” 

This story is something that is probably one of the chief fears of native Detroiters. It plays into the story that people from the suburbs and from out of state are coming to Detroit, deciding what’s wrong with it and “fixing it” themselves, without any regard for the residents or respect for the history. Even worse, as the Forbes article claims, the Chinese investors are said to just buy the properties and sit on them without improving or cleaning them up. According to Forbes, the Chinese companies that have invested in Detroit so far,  “[...] often keep their acquisitions vacant, treating new properties like stores of value”.

If the hype turns into a significant amount of purchases, I’m not sure anyone can predict what the effects would be. It could provide new capital and contribute to the hybrid vigor of the city, it could further marginalize the current residents, or a combination. It could also not even occur in the first place.

That said, as always, make sure you pay attention to the actual facts behind the sweeping claims about Detroit.

A letter to the Kings

Michael Brown’s name has been ringing in my mind. So have many other names of those whose lives have been ended by violence. They were somebody’s child, friend, lover… My heart strings pull every time I look at my black family members and loved ones. I can only imagine how exhausting it must be to be black and a man. Many of my fellow fellows have expressed their opinions on the Michael Brown decision and their sentiments on race relations in our city and our country; however, I just want to express my love and admiration for the brown men in the world…. Our city is comprised by a majority of black people. I just want them to know I think they are royalty.

 

 

Dear King,

 

I hope all is still and very well with you. I heard the news of Mike Brown and it was like déjà vu. How are doing? Are you handling it well? It must be so tiring to hear the story the media tells. I’ve never been one to differentiate the value of life based on color, but with all that’s happened I wanted to reach out to my brother. How does your heart feel? Have you been asked that today? I would imagine this is difficult, but I hope that you’re okay. If you are not I understand and I hope to make it better. That’s why I’m sending you this love in the form of a letter.

 

I look at you and I remember what it means to handle despair with grace. I find love and feel God move when you let a smile take over your face.  When you speak I’m reminded that intelligence originated in your mind. When you withstand tribulation I remember that you are the source of all mankind. I love you.  My son will look like you one day, and that’s a beautiful thing no matter what the media may say. I pray that he adores his features and doesn’t believe they are cursed. I pray that he knows and appreciates that his people are diverse. I hope that when he speaks, his words move the masses to fill the aisles. I hope he knows I love him even when it’s decided the life of somebody that looks like him isn’t even worth a trial.

 

I hope you know that I wish the same for you. And that your very being inspires me to push through. Did you know that to me you are absolutely everything? That there’s no word more fitting to describe you than “KING”? I hope so, but if the answers to those questions were “no” then read this again. Until it’s message is written on your mind and heart in permanent pen. When life throws you a curve that pushes you off track, just remember that you’re black and that means you always bounce back.  Your skin absorbs the sun and your hair defies gravity. To think of you as less than magical would be the ultimate depravity. I love you because you’re worth it. I expect nothing but the best from you because to me you’re almost perfect. You do more than exist, king, you flourish. You give me a better understanding of myself and my spirit you nourish. You created mathematics, chemistry and swag. I’m so proud of you, I can’t help but to brag.

 

When you share your power with me I have what it takes to become the supreme being, so thank you for existing….

 

Love,

A Black Queen


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