This past Sunday, I attended my first ever Detroit Dialogues event. The discussion group, started by Cornetta Lane, who happens to be a year one Challenge Detroit fellow, is a monthly forum that provides individuals an outlet to explore thoughts and opinions about challenges we face in the city. She says, “Our approach to dialogue is unique in that we combine a topic of discussion (i.e. race, youth development, sexuality, etc.) with an art form (i.e. theatre, song-writing, drumming, etc.) to produce an authentic reflective experience.”
And quite the reflective, eye-opening experience it was. As a fellow, one of my jobs is to play a role in changing the perception of Detroit. A few years ago, this would have meant conveying Detroit as something other than the “war-zone,” to which it was so often referred. For so long, the only narrative audible outside of Detroit took aim at a struggling city. Now, one of the main narratives is of progress—new restaurants, a culture of acceptance, and a place of opportunity. Until yesterday, my main advocacy efforts consisted of pictures and tweets about said restaurants, new buildings and development.
And this new narrative is not wrong. However, it is just that: a single narrative. What Detroit Dialogues helped me remember is that beyond my job, it is my responsibility as a resident of Detroit to ask difficult questions and wonder: whose story is missing from the picture? What other narratives exist and how can I better respect and share the stories of Detroiters whose voices are not currently heard?
The topic at Detroit Dialogues this week was Vulnerable in Detroit, and we focused on vulnerability within the context of the current foreclosure crisis. After learning about and practicing storytelling and hearing more about the facts of the current foreclosures, we split up into groups to produce the desired “authentic reflective experience.” My group was tasked with writing a story in response to this prompt: when faced with a challenge, what can we learn from vulnerability and openness?
Interestingly, each member of the group came to the table with the same hope: to solve the problem of vulnerability in regards to tax foreclosure. After sharing some deep insights and examples of times when we’ve felt vulnerable in our own lives, that original hope dissipated. Although our challenges ranged in severity, we were each able to relate to the feelings of fear that arise in a challenging situation. Whether that be a fear of losing your house, watching your community crumble, or moving to a new city, the feeling of fear is real and debilitating. As a group, we realized that what’s often missing from challenging situations is a place for those who are struggling to safely share their vulnerability. Without that safe space, vulnerability turns to shame and the effects can result in a deep downward spiral.
Clearly, we did not, and cannot, figure out how to eliminate the feelings of vulnerability from the foreclose crisis. However, what we can do is raise the voices of those men, women, and families facing imminent foreclosure. We can remember that this matter is not just one of money, laws, and government, but one of real people facing adversity. And that is certainly something to which we can all relate.
There are 37,000 homes in Detroit that may be foreclosed on in the coming months. That is equivalent to about 100,000 people, or 1/6 of Detroit’s current population. If you don’t have time to learn about the issue, please take the time to learn about the stories of some Detroiters currently at risk of having their homes taken away from them. You may be surprised at how quickly you can empathize with their situations.