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How Do You Like Dem Apples?

Effective Corporate Social Responsibility is essential to the socially and economically just redevelopment of Detroit. At first glance, that is a given. Investment in your community is good business; impactful investment, even more so. For Detroit, in particular, the above circumstance could determine whether or not it ascends a cycle segregation, stratification and social inequality that has pervasively sculpted this city for the better part of the past century.

Simply put, the private sector runs this city and has done so for decades.

A hundred years ago Henry Ford carved the cities of Highland Park and Hamtramck out of Detroit’s 140-plus square mile footprint to create comprehensive communities around two of his largest assemblies; today our three-headed Gilbert-Moroun-Ilitch billionaire hydra is doing the same thing with their massive land-grabs and the corresponding redevelopment of Campus Martius, Michigan Central Station [“West” Corktown] and The District. Now we are left this New Detroit v. Old Detroit; 7.2 SQ MI v. Neighborhoods; poor, under-educated black v. affluent, gentrifying white dialogue.

As a review, The Motor City achieved global prominence on the heels of the automotive industry’s boom. Outlasting the Packard’s and Hudson’s of the world, The Big Three of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler emerged as lasting pioneers within the auto industry. With their success came a perceived immorality. Three demigods of innovation in their own right, the government and citizenry of Detroit willingly permitted them to pervasively mold the city’s structure and policies to their own benefit; they lobbied to remove public transportation, destroyed neighborhoods with the highways they financed and bore their roots so deep into the soil that no other industry could grow. 

In the late-60’s and early-70’s, a one-two punch of civil rights and post-industrialization knocked Detroit square on its ass. A failure to diversify the social structure and industrial landscape of the city left Detroit with as much adaptability and mobility as World’s Strongest Man, Mariusz Pudzianowski. Rapidly remove two-thirds of the population, plunge the city government into bankruptcy, channel unprecedented amounts of money into private foundations and here we find ourselves today: The Big Three still reign supreme and the working class fights tooth-and-nail for representation in response to reduced rights and civic disenfranchisement; some ambitious billionaires have gotten themselves in the mix too. Any questions?

For the Detroit academics in the room, thank you for your patience while I caught everyone else up. We’re here today because of the lackluster corporate social responsibility I witnessed earlier this week. As a representative of Challenge Detroit, I had the opportunity to attend the Detroit Economic Club’s Meeting on the 2015 Economic Prospects for the Regional and National Economy. From my humble seat overlooking the Westin Book Cadillac’s main ballroom, I watched a group of Cody High School student’s file into the room and populate the table in front of me. At an event where tickets typically went for $75 dollars to non-members, Cody was one of three Detroit schools represented as ‘honored guests’ that day due to the generosity of a prominent health insurance company in Detroit who sponsored them.

After a public acknowledgement of the students’ attendance, the luncheon proceeded. Guests were served modest lunches consisting of a meatloaf slice, three baby carrots and a scoop of mashed peas and, as we ate, a preeminent national economist jovially expounded on the economic forecast for our country in relation to the price of oil, Obamacare, etc., etc., etc.

While the older gentleman to my right dozed off and the younger woman to my left fiddled with her phone, my focus shifted to the teenagers in front of me. Within minutes of the presentation’s beginning, their shoulders slouched and their faces went blank…

Context, you need context!

A Detroit Public School located on the far west side of the city, over eigthty percent of Cody’s students receive free or reduced lunch. The recipient of a $27 million GM Foundation grant (re: private sector runs this city) in 2011 the school has achieved marked success with it’s “small schools” model. Unfortunately, the fact remains that Cody’s three small schools ranked in the 9th, 5th and 3rd percentiles in statewide performance. Digging deeper into the three schools’ data, 90-98 percent of 11th graders achieved a “Not Proficient” mark on Mathematics and 80-89 percent of 11th graders achieved at best “Partially Proficient” marks in Reading on their Michigan Merit Examination (MME) in 2014.  In layman’s terms, Cody High School juniors cannot read or understand mathematical principles at a high school level.

Now I am one for youth exposure, immersion and access programming, but as the recent This American Life episode, Three Miles, illuminated, appropriateness and efficacy of that programming go hand-in-hand. Those two concepts did not accompany the students to last week’s meeting. The speaker droned on about unemployment rates and stock market gains; the students uncomfortably shifted in their seats and stole glances at their teacher for any indications of modeled behavior.

Regardless of their level of interest, they didn’t have the capability to comprehend much of the information being presented that day.

Long after tables had been cleared and the speaker had commenced his Q & A session, I curiously noticed several Cody students snacking on a handful of bright green apples. A clear glass vase full of Granny Smith’s served as the centerpiece of each table in the ballroom. Providing color on an otherwise whitewashed table-setting, I thought they were a pleasant addition. The Cody students with their adolescent appetites and food insecure home lives only saw them as food. With thirty-nine tables in the ballroom, theirs was the only table with an empty vase as the meeting closed. I hope they thanked their corporate sponsors for the apples.

2015-03-28 15.22.41

Halftime Analysis

Dequindre Cut Graffiti "We Are Detroit"

It’s hard to believe that I am halfway done with this fellowship.  Where has the time gone?!!!  In honor of the halfway mark, and to provide a little insight into Challenge Detroit for those of you applying to be a Year 4 Fellow, below is the speech I gave to my host company’s, Hospice of Michigan (HOM), executive team on Tuesday.  They asked me to provide a recap on what I’ve done at HOM and with Challenge Detroit these past six months.  Although some of the specific items that I have produced for HOM might not seem relevant to you, I wanted to leave them in here to show the wide array of assignments my host company has assigned me.  I appreciate their concern about making sure I am exposed to many different areas of this business.  If you become a future fellow, I recommend working with your host company to provide you with that experience.  Enjoy!

 

“First of all thank you for being a host company and for your support of this program.  Applications for Year 4 Fellows is now open through March 8th so this has been a time for me to reflect on where this program has brought me.  It’s hard to believe I’ve already been here for 6 months and only have 6 more to go.  During my time here, I have been primarily

HOM allowed the fellows to use their conference room for a Friday working session

HOM allowed the fellows to use their conference room for a Friday working session

working with the data analytics team, focused on the At Home Support Program.  The team has allowed me to take over the production and distribution of many of the regular weekly and monthly reports.  One particular item I take pride in is the redesign of the monthly dashboard.  Some of the executive team has seen the prototype and it will be circulated to everyone next month but by using slicers, we were able to have trending data for all partners in a clean, one page format.  The report will hopefully be utilized and no longer viewed as just numbers on a page.  Outside of the analytics team, I worked with COO Patrick Miller and Director of Marketing Tracey Pierce, to find a new scrub provider which will save our nurses and aides over 25% on uniform costs.  Past fellow, Kirsten Bondalapati, started to create a Green Team before the end of her term and I was able to pick-up where she left off.  We have about 8 members here in Brush Park.  As you know, we launched the recycle program at the end of January.  It has been going well and I greatly appreciate the support that the executive team and Property Manager Chris Peraino has provided.  We are looking forward to receiving our Bee Green Business certification from Green Living Sciences by the end of March.

 

On the Challenge Detroit side of things, we just wrapped up our 3rd challenge last Friday.  On behalf of Challenge Detroit, I would like to thank you for allowing us to use the conference room during one of our Friday work sessions.  Our first challenge was focused on community

The logo my amazing team created for our non-profit partner Youth Energy Squad.

The logo my amazing team created for our non-profit partner Youth Energy Squad.

engagement.  Our nonprofit partner was Recovery Park whose mission is to create jobs for people with barriers to employment.  Our second challenge was focused on the transportation issues in the city.  We worked with the non-profit partner Vehicles for Change, a company based out of Baltimore, Maryland who is looking to come to Detroit to help families with financial challenges achieve economic independence through car ownership.  Our last challenge was in a blitz style format so we worked with six different non-profit partners focused on education in Detroit.  My team worked with Youth Energy Squad, an organization that cultivates the next generation of green leaders by engaging young people in hands-on service learning projects to make their homes, schools and communities more sustainable.  These challenges have exposed me to many different types of organizations and I’ve been developing skills entirely outside of what I’m exposed to in a normal workweek.

 

One thing I appreciate about this organization is that you are very forward thinking.  Despite being known as Hospice of Michigan, you have diversified your portfolio.  My time here has really opened my eyes to how this country grossly neglects end of life care and what a disservice that is to not just the patients but also their families.  I’m trying to play a small role in the improvement of that by not shying away from the topic but having frank conversations with my family, friends, and the other fellows about the importance of end of life care.

 

I hope this provided you with an overview of the impact your participation in the Challenge Detroit program has had on me.”

Making a Differnce

The Hardest Month to Spell: February Monthly Check In

Thank goodness February is finally over with. Is it just me or is it always the most wretched month of the year? Other months can be bad or crummy, but “wretched” is a tern reserved for winter’s Stalingrad. I know it’s the shortest month but so help me Churchill, it’s dark.

That being said, there was plenty of fantastic people and events in February. My good, dear, revered friend came into town. We caught up like adults, nothing too silly, and obeyed all boundaries. With ANOTHER good, dear, revered friend, I crossed the great northern boarder into Canada to see Jim Gaffigan. What a ball! If you don’t watch standup comedy, you’re missing a beautiful experience. I also cooked a second community meal with a a fellow Challenge Detroit-er. A warm, snug dinner for 9 people. We purchased most of our produce at Eastern Market, a real gem in the city. Especially the brick and mortar stores like Adam’s Meats. We purchased two fresh chickens that the meat man helpfully carved up for us. I’m a man who know his meat; this place is prime chops.

The month continues! At the end of the month, all the Challenge Detroit fellows Voltroned into a towering defender of the universe at the DFT to watch the Oscar Shorts. Shout out to Passport to the Arts for the experience. DP2A is always presenting the best cultural events in the city. I’m not even saying that because many Challenge D stakeholders are connected to DP2A, I promise! Several of Detroit’s finest events presented for a modest sum, it’s a great way to get a tour of Detroit’s beautiful arts buildings. Finally I’ve saved the best for last: I am now a proud card carrying member of Ocelot Printshop. For the uninitiated, Ocelot is a community screen printing studio with the finest people and equipment. It felt so good to get my hands dirty! Stay tuned for pictures from my maiden voyage.

Wow, given all the good vibrations buzzing through February, maybe “wretched” isn’t a fair term. Here’s hoping March is even better.

 

Overlooked and Overpowered

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.

www.becomessomeoneliveshere.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Blues

I’ve spoken with several friends who are either new to the city, or new to the Midwest, and a lot of them seem to be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder as a result of our  horribly cold and grossly gray pre-Spring. I say pre-Spring because there’s a section of Winter that I absolutely adore, specifically the late November to early January portion, and I don’t want the icky weather we are currently experiencing to be associated with it. This is pre-Spring. Pre-spring is hideous and gray and has a nasty habit of finding ways to wet your socks with dirty slush. That being said, as a die hard Michigander, I know that there are ways to enjoy this time of year. Mostly, you should ignore the outdoors for another month or so. Things that will make your pre-Spring bright include:

Go See Live Music 

Go see a show. It will make you feel better. Plus, you will get to see dozens of 21 year olds and you will try to forget how embarrassing you were when you were that age.

Hozier at the Royal Oak Theater

Hozier at the Royal Oak Theater

 

Go to a Comedy Show

I went to a show at St. Andrew’s Hall with my Aunt and it was only moderately awkward and definitely brightened my Winter weary mood. Try it out! The Elizabeth Theatre has comedy shows every Sunday for $5.

Rob Delaney at St. Andrew's Hall

Rob Delaney at St. Andrew’s Hall

 

House of Cards

Our patron saint of “the weather is too scary, let’s just veg”, Netflix has bequeathed us with a new season of House of Cards. If you don’t watch HoC, even better! Start from the beginning and once you’ve devoured all the seasons, call me and we can gush about it.

Frank Underwood.

Frank Underwood.

 

 

Tells me:

The Banker tells me that I am a loan. I have borrowed money [on interest] in order to pursue and obtain my degree. I need to pay it back.

The Economist tells me that my net worth is less than zero. My college debt is greater than my yearly income; my credit card debt is greater than the money in my bank account. I am an investment, but my yields to not meet expectations. I am quite literally on income-based repayment and the government does not expect payment.

My conservative uncle tells me that my education is a joke, my ideology is flawed and I need to get a job that will make more money. I complain and white about fabricated injustices that are little more than distractions. The work is aim to do is irrelevant.

Challenge Detroit tells me that I am a changemaker. I have unlimited potential and my perspective matters. Challenge provides me with resources, a network and a platform to put my ideas into action to make an impact.

This time last year, I was scraping by. Trying to make enough money to pay for rent,  working three to four part-time jobs a day and taking every $5 research study I could just to afford a meal that day while I waited for my SNAP benefits to be reinstated; I battled depression and listlessness as a I lost touch with the reality of my capability to change the world.

I thank Challenge Detroit, Deirdre, Shelley, my DTE co-workers and the rest of my CD family for believing in me; for giving me the chance to find myself; for letting me grow during what has been the most influential year of my life.

Here’s to the rest of Year 3. *Cheers*

My 5 Top Moments of Challenge Detroit

Detroit is __________. What was the first thing that came to your mind? For me, the answer is simple – Detroit is home. But then again, what truly is a home? Home is where your story begins. Home is where you sprout and blossom. Home is where your have your shoulder to lean on, and your support system pushing you to be the best version of yourself. Home is where you feel a part of something. Detroit is my home. Detroit has given me the chance to be a part of something so much larger than myself – Challenge Detroit. For the past six months 34 other fellows and I have been living, working, giving, playing and leading in the Motor City. What’s been the best part of this adventure? Well, I’m glad you asked. From my eyes, here are five of the best moments of Challenge Detroit so far:

Boot Camp Group

Boot Camp

As Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” After a four-month interview process, followed by four months of amplifying anticipation, we finally began our term as Challenge Detroit fellows in August 2014.

But before we could truly start our year, we had to learn more about each other, the program, and the city we would soon call home.

On our very first day of boot camp, we took a leap of faith at the Walled Lake Outdoor Education Center – literally. We spent the day challenging ourselves and each other in the trees on a high ropes course. Standing anxiously on a small wooden step 40 feet up in the air all of the fellows were encouraged to take a “Leap of Faith” – to jump off the ledge in hopes of grabbing a metal trapeze bar just out of reach. Together, we are all embarking on a new adventure in Detroit. The leap bonded us as a team, but the leap represents so much more. We’re ready to try new things, to take risks and to push ourselves far out of our comfort zones. Through all of these challenges, the Fellows and the people of Detroit serve as our safety harness to support us and encourage us on our adventure.

RP

Completing the 1st Challenge

Completing our first challenge with RecoveryPark was, well, challenging. RecoveryPark partnered with Challenge Detroit to help advance its mission to create jobs for Detroiter’s with barriers to employment and to transform Detroit communities by converting blighted land into urban agriculture. We had to step out of everything we know and immerse ourselves in something new.

We overcame obstacles and time constraints.

We pushed ourselves to the absolute limit. But I suppose that’s where learning happens.

And, of course, worthwhile projects demand worthwhile effort.

This was undeniably worth the effort. RecoveryPark partnered with Challenge Detroit to help advance its mission to create jobs for Detroiter’s with barriers to employment and to transform Detroit communities by converting blighted land into urban agriculture. One of the best parts of completing our first challenge was learning from other fellows, and combining the experiences, pieces of knowledge and wide variety of experience and skills within the group. It’s so remarkably overwhelming to watch a talented group of fellows that work well together to create amazing deliverables. In the beginning of our first challenge no one had a clue how exactly we would produce something unique and valuable for the organization, but our hard work gleamed on presentation day. Watching the faces of the RecoveryPark stakeholders beam with confidence and approval during our presentation was the biggest relief and slice of reassurance for all of the challenges to come.

Year 3 Kickoff

After a very busy first few months, we celebrated Challenge Detroit’s the launch of third year and new class of fellows in late November.

In support of Challenge Detroit some of the city’s best and brightest gathered at the very top of the Compuware building in downtown Detroit. We heard from past and present fellows, the founders, the board of directors, and Challenge Detroit’s leadership. We celebrated how far Challenge Detroit has come over the past three years and the program’s vision for the future.

Together, we’ve been able to work with over 30 non-profits dedicated to positively impacting the city of Detroit.

Together we’ve achieved over a 90 percent retention rate of past fellows continuing to live the values of Challenge Detroit once their time as a fellow ends.

Together we are positively changing perceptions of the city.

Together we are making a difference. Sitting in that room I took a step back and realized that in the hustle of bustle of everyday life it’s easy to forget how special it is to be a part of a team that, together, is greater than the sum of all of its parts. Together, we are Challenge Detroit.

Belle Isle Planting

Planting Our Roots

At the starting line of our year long journey the fellows teamed up for a weekend volunteer event on Belle Isle. There we got our hands dirty planting nearly 17,000 daffodil bulbs and had the opportunity to tour the Detroit Yacht Club.

In the moment, volunteering on the island that day was another chance to hang out with fellow fellows, enjoy the outdoors and to plant a little bit of sunshine. Looking back now I realize how momentous that day truly was. A few weeks later a friend of mine shared a quote from Henri Matisse that really stuck with me – “there are always flowers for those who will see them.”

A few weeks later stumbled upon an article that described how a daffodil symbolizes the rebirth and new beginnings. To me, in a way, each fellow is a daffodil bulb – shipped from across the country and across the county to help Detroit bloom into an even more beautiful city. Together we planted ourselves in Detroit, a city we all share a deep passion for, to sprout our roots and embark on this adventure together. Each day we’re growing and blossoming as an individual, and as a team. We are a flourishing ecosystem that supports and challenges one another. And while we’re each beautiful standing alone, together we are a blooming field of daffodils, and a spectacle to be seen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Connecting After 5

Challenge Detroit is built on five program pillars: live, work, give, play and lead in Detroit. After a long day of work at our host companies, volunteering and working on challenges we explore different ways to #PlayDetroit.

Thanks to After 5 Detroit, an organization that plans unique work events designed to build camaraderie, engage employees in the Detroit community and connects them with other professionals around Detroit, the fellows got themselves into some friendly competition for the 2014 Bowling Tournament. We unwound, bonded as a team and networked with other young professionals at the Garden Bowl on Woodward Ave., America’s oldest active bowling center. All lanes were filled for the tournament, and while the games were close and lots of fun, there was one clear winner at the end of the evening, and it wasn’t Challenge Detroit.  But, the dodgeball tournament in May is approaching and the fellows will be ready to bring the heat with our training plan – if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.

Lollo Park

This past Friday we just started a new challenge working with the Detroit Collaborative Design Center, helping with a bunch of initiatives for the Fitzgerald neighborhood. This historic neighborhood is home to both Marygrove College and University of Detroit Mercy. It is also home to Lollo Park, a great community park that is in the process of adding so many great and new features. My team is tasked with generating ideas to lay the groundwork for a park committee that will run the park for years to come. This got me thinking about names, and the history of longstanding parks and community spaces. So I took to the internet and found out the story behind the name. Check it out.

lollo

We can never know, perhaps Nathan Lollo lived by this principle.

Nadalino [Nathan] P. Lollo was born in 1915 to immigrant parents – Valerio and Lucy.  He was the second of four children growing up in a Detroit Italian family.  Nathan graduated high school and served for 5 years in the Army during World War II.  He worked as a driver for the City of Detroit Parks and Recreation Department.

FATEFUL FRIDAY

On Friday, September 26, 1952 Nathan and his brother Joseph were driving to the bowling alley where they participated in a league.  Joe lived right around the block from Nathan.  Traffic at the corner of Coyle and Fenkell was heavy.   Nathan noticed a man standing on the corner waving a white cane.  This blind man looked indecisive about crossing; Nathan did the right thing.  He told his brother to pull over so he could help the blind man cross the street.

“He was always thinking of others”, remarked Joe after the accident.  Just as Nathan and his charge – Mr. Takach –  passed  Joe’s parked vehicle, a drunk driver emerged from around the corner and struck the pair.  Mr. Takach was seriously injured; Nathan was pronounced dead at Mount Carmel Mercy Hospital.

memorialNathan Lollo was a 36 year old everyday hero. He left behind his siblings, parents, and wife Frances.   He is remembered with a small children’s playground located on Puritan at the corner of Cherrylawn in Northwest Detroit, that is now titled “Lollo Park”

 

 

 

 

 

This is a random piece of history we might take for granted. I do not know how we will incorporate this past into the future prospects or opportunities, but I always believe there is value in knowing and understanding history.

We are not makers of history. We are made by it.

-MLK

NAFTA vs. Detroit

Often times, I’ll find myself thinking about how Detroit’s history unwound itself into such unfortunate circumstances, particularly during project challenges that encourage us to navigate the city’s more disparate areas. What follows is generally an evening of me digging around on the internet for more information, regardless of how many times I’ve done it before, and how many links I’ll revisit in my search. I know that what I’m looking for is the figurative equivalent of a unicorn – a single equation and Theory of Everything for Detroit. And yet, while my digital expeditions don’t yield exactly what I’m looking for, they still provide fruit to chew on.

It’s fairly apparent to even the most least familiar with Detroit’s history that its circumstance is the result of many problems. They’ve come in many forms, from issues stemming within both public and private sectors. I’d like to cover one of these issues here briefly.

The North American Free Trade Act passed on January 1st, 1994. Since then, economists have attempted to put a price on both the positive and negative affects of NAFTA in an effort to understand the affects, and subsequently gauge the effectiveness of the act.

In short, NAFTA reduced, and in most circumstances completely eliminated all barriers to trade between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada.

Still, the takeaways from the following decades proved to be foggy at best. The problem with attributing either upticks or downward economic mobility to NAFTA, is the difficulty in separating causality between notoriously hard to follow economic shifts and the actual implications of NAFTA’s implementation.

There are, however, a few results that can be attributed directly to the passing of NAFTA. While some are positive, it is perhaps most infamously known for transplanting hundreds of thousands of jobs from the U.S. to Mexico – and almost all these jobs were from the manufacturing sector. Unfortunately for Detroit, this also happened to be the most prolific form of employment in Michigan due to the state’s close relationship with vehicles and related miscellaneous parts manufacturing. Over time, The Economic Policy Institute found that 43,600 jobs were lost in Michigan alone (and perhaps much more when considering indirect impacts), 1%  as a share of total state employment – the largest share of any state in the U.S.

MEXICO-JOBS

 

Local suppliers and other assembly plants began to close as American workers were out competed, with wages in Mexico reaching between one to two dollars an hour.

The more I think about it, the clearer it becomes that Detroit has endured, and may still be weathering of ‘The Perfect Storm.’ I do believe, however, that the worst has passed.

Resetting With Six Months To Go.

This has been tougher than I thought.

Not the job, or challenges, but physically being in Detroit.

From playing sports with old friends and seeing family in the suburbs to visiting my fiancé in Chicago every other week, I feel like I haven’t been here much. It’s hit me this week, as February dwindled down, that there’s only 6 months left in this fellowship and that I feel like I haven’t been fully present in what I’ve been doing here. I think since I’ve been pulled in many directions and spent so much time outside the city, I haven’t felt like I a true Detroiter. Sure, everything I own is in Detroit, and my monthly bills list the city as my address, but I am not sure this has become home yet.

That means there’s only six more months to change that. Only six more months to immerse myself in a city where I’ve always wanted to work. Only six months left to work with this group of amazing people, to build strong friendships, to work in this unique space and help transform a city I love. That’s not that much time when you think about it.

But I have a plan.

Last week I thought about what I listed as things I wanted to get out of this Challenge Detroit experience. I wrote down things like lasting friendships, growth in leadership skills, exposure to different industries, an ability to impact the lives of others, a deeper connection to the City, and the ability to act as a bridge for people that don’t know Detroit or haven’t been here in quite some time.

Most of this is happening through the fellowship, but I thought about how could I personally make sure that at the end of these 6 months these things happened.

Then it hit me. I’ve always wanted to do a photo project during my year here, but never knew the right subject or how I should go about producing it until one day I woke up with an idea.

There are 143 square miles in Detroit (if you round up, and include water). What better way to immerse yourself in the city then through photography that takes you to every corner of Detroit.

So that’s my plan. Six months to take at least (probably many more) 143 pictures of this city, one in every square mile. To document the people, places, buildings, spaces, and so many other things that make this city amazing.

I’ll be updating my photography website, and writing another blog as I do it. So stay tuned for updates.

Here’s my first shot for it, a photo of Detroit Native and Challenge Detroiter, Brandon Bufford. More on this shot a little later.

IMG_4119

 

1 down. 142 to go.

 

 

 


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