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Aqueducts, Hamtramck, grit.

I think I speak for all of Michigan, when I say that winter cannot end soon enough. My weather app says today it is a balmy 45 degrees, but I am still sitting next to the radiator, cold and drinking jasmine tea. I’ve resorted to refusing certain restaurants because they are too drafty (I’m looking at you, Motor City Brewery) and still wear two layers of tights to work. Tomorrow is Opening Day which marks the unofficial beginning of spring and the official return of my frustration when I bike ride through Tiger’s Stadium. I’ve suffered from weird stomach aches all winter, an angry pinching in my right hand rib cage, that has caused me to wildly speculate a range of allergies from dairy to sub-freezing weather. I’m going to go with the cold.

In an effort to do something besides work, be chilly, watch Twin Peaks (go Netflix it right now) and eat my my boyfriend Ben’s spatchocked chicken, I’ve forced myself into new ventures. The first is a proposal for Midtown Inc.’s (the quazi-private non-profit that runs my neighborhood, thats soooo Detroit), aqueduct project. It’s open to architects, artists, etc., and I’m completely unqualified to submit a proposal. However, that has not stopped me from parking my car under said aqueducts for an entire hour one (chilly) morning and literally staring at them. Driving home on the Lodge, I always get off early and make sure to drive down second avenue, slowing down to glance around as I drive under the Grand Trunk Rail.

They are a strange thing, white washed, utilitarian arches, that– compared with other Detroit architectural splendors– are barely worth noting or seeing. Driving north under the rail road and between the arches, the majestic Fisher building lords over the arches in all it’s baroque 1920′s glory. I had some ideas about what to propose, but I really started to think about these aqueducts when I drove through the Packard Plant for the first time.

On our way to our weekly drive/hang in Hamtramck (long story), Ben and I decided to avoid the freeway and take surface roads. Suddenly, there it was in all its ruin porn glory– the Packard. I don’t need to tell you anything about it other than if Detroit’s biggest export is ruin porn, the Packard is the best seller. Over the summer, I’d ridden my bike through it on a Slow Roll ride, but I hadn’t really experienced it in its full, sun-lit glory and within the context of the surrounding neighborhoods. For instance, there is literally a graveyard in front of the Packard. Could I stumble upon an easier metaphor? Large swaths of land surrounding the plant were empty and grey and dead. A few buildings stood forlornly, faded signs advertising auto shops or long-closed party stores. I guess I should be used to seeing this around Detroit, all this ruin and detritus left of manufacturing and “progress.”  But still, I can’t help but feel hopeless when I see dilapidated clapboard houses, windows and doors gaping open. Sometimes I dare to peer inside when as I drive by, but it feels like when you see someone’s underpants unexpectedly and I look away in shame.

During another trip to Hamtramck, Ben and I got stopped by a train passing us on Holbrook. We stared for a while, trying to figure out where it was from (a Ford plant in Dearborn) and what was on the double stacked boxcars (Ford trucks). Later, I realized that this train was on the Grand Trunk Rail road and those trucks had ridden from Dearborn, over those aqueducts in New Center and past the Packard plant. The irony, of course, shouldn’t be lost on anyone– that the newest, best selling truck (also the lightest and most fuel efficient) travels out of a plant (I suspect River Rouge, which is slowly poisoning the neighborhood around it), on a railroad built over a century ago, over aqueducts that are barely notable, past the architectural left-overs from a gilded age, through the remnants of the ruined Packard plant, and past me, waiting for all it to pass inside a Ford Fiesta.

I don’t know exactly what to make of all this, the ruins of Detroit, the emotion that sometimes grips me when I get on the 75 at eight mile and pass gaping homes or at the 94 interchange when yet another factory sits wide open, holding icy, grey snow drifts. I don’t know what to make of all these strange connections, the century-old rail roads, the aqueducts and the space between them, the fact I can hear those trains in midtown and in Ferndale, at night, when the sound travels through the frigid air. It’s the same sound that’s been howling through midwestern winters and midwestern towns for decades, and I’m glad its still there. It’s the same sound I heard in Portland, writing about my adolescent feelings and Provo, staying up late painting. But what do you do with these connections and ropes and tropes of Americana, stretching though time and place? What do you do with the ruins of ideas? Of production? What do you do with the trashed, physical remnants that “progress” leaves us? If these things connect us– transportation, industry, ideals of hard work and production– what does it mean when the physical manifestation of the past are left to rot?

We have no purposeful ruin in Detroit. We have no sacred ruin in Detroit. We have no places for reflection on what we broke here. We have no physical space to pause and wonder at the mistakes and triumphs that were forged here for all of America. Instead, we have continual hype (hot air?) that Detroit hustles harder, is “gritty,” is the place to be, that nothing stops us. Except, of course, trains crossing our potholed roads, as we shiver in sunlight that gives no warmth.

Was Beating of Truck Driver a Hate Crime?

This month, I would like to discuss an incident that occurred last week on Detroit’s east side that brings to light a larger issue that we as a community need to address.

While driving down the same street that he had for the past 17 years, Steve Utash, a white male from Clinton Township who worked as a tree-trimmer and has children and grandchildren, hit a young boy who crossed his path. According to police, Utash did not violate any traffic laws and the boy likely ran in front of the truck as it was coming. Instead of driving off and leaving the case to be a hit and run, Utash stopped the truck, got out of the car and went to check on the boy he hit to make sure he was alright, as any decent human being would do.

In response, Utash was then beaten by a mob of roughly a dozen men, all presumed black, who left him in critical condition and then stole his truck. Deborah Hughes, a retired nurse and an African American resident of the neighborhood, heard the crash and took care of the boy, who thankfully only had minor injuries. She also stood up for Utash and made the men stop beating him and is likely the reason that Steve Utash is still alive. According to Channel 7 news, she is quoted as having said that out of roughly 100 people in the crowd, no one but her told the men to stop beating Utash. No one. Not one person. Essentially, he was beaten for doing the right thing. What kind of message does that send people?

There is something terribly wrong when we look at this picture. Just thinking about this case fills me with anger and disgust. Thankfully, two of the teenagers who beat Utash were arrested. My heart breaks for both the little boy and for Steve Utash, a man who did the right thing by pulling over to check on the boy, only to be punished so severely.

My question is, did race play a role in why Utash was beaten so severely? Was he beaten because he is a white male? Unfortunately, the answer is likely yes. If so, this case needs to be treated like a hate crime just like in any other similar situation. Outrage over this incident and support for Utash’s family came pouring in from people of all races and backgrounds.

I believe that we need to do better.  If we want to change perceptions of Detroit in the eyes of outsiders, part of our job is to drive hate out of our city. People’s first concern is safety and everyone should feel safe whether they are from here or not. We need to speak out more and let it be known that this hate and prejudice is not a representation of Detroit as a whole.

My heart goes out to Steve Utash, the little boy and both their families. God willing, both will heal and be well with time. In Detroit, lets stand united so nothing like this ever happens again.


Opening Day

As many know, opening day for the Tigers is a holiday here in Downtown Detroit. The city fills up with people of all ages wearing their orange and blue proudly. The lot across the street from my place fills up with cars of all kinds, and people arrive from the metro area in large groups.

I was not here this year for opening day – I was visiting friends in Las Vegas. I got home at 6AM the day after opening day and was sadly greeted by mounds of trash all over the city. Bottles, cans, paper, food – you name it, it was thrown around the city as if Detroit was a giant garbage can in a bar on a Saturday night. This reminded me instantly of my first week in Detroit. We were working with a cute urban garden, Lafayette Greens, located right downtown, and one of the fellows asked if the garden that had experienced any acts of vandalism. The response we got shocked me. Our guide said that the only time they have ever had problems was during opening day, when thousands of people make their way to downtown. Some of these people have little attachment to the city and feel like it is beyond being fixed; as a result, they treat it as if it is a landfill.

With that, I am here to say that, though everyone is welcome to visit this beautiful city, please treat it with the respect that you would treat your own home. This city deserves visitors of all kind, and the Tigers deserve to be cheered on by the best fans in the country, but remember people live here. People love this city and spend a lot of time and energy to keep it up. So PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE respect this city, because without Detroit, the state of Michigan – and the world, for that matter – would be an entirely different place. The future of our communities depends on everyone working together to make great things happen.



I’ve been away from the city for the past two and a half weeks. I had bunion surgery on my right foot and have been convalescing on my parents’ couch in Bloomfield Hills. While it was amazing to have my mom cook me three square meals each day like I was a kid again, I seriously missed Detroit. Living in Detroit is much different than living in the suburbs. Something I knew but never appreciated until I moved here. Living in Detroit means experiencing it first hand. Living in the suburbs, even just 20 miles away, can often mean holding a media-produced opinion of Detroit. Even with the best of intentions, cobbling together stories, one-time events and news articles that may seem accurate, it can be difficult to truly understand a city until you experience it. Even though I now have both a suburb and city viewpoint under my belt, I find it difficult to communicate to others both why an “outside view” can be judgmental and also what that “inside view” really is.


What promoted me to think about stigma and my difficulty in communicating about it was actually a Facebook status. The status was posted by friend of mine from graduate school who was born and raised in Atlanta and took a job in Detroit after graduation. He worked in Detroit, in the Renaissance Center, and lived in Royal Oak. We hung out a little, and from what I gather he mostly went out in Royal Oak and occasionally made the hike to Ann Arbor. I had conversations with him about how he felt Royal Oak wasn’t really his scene, but Ann Arbor fit him much better. Maybe he would move there soon. Instead, he moved back to Atlanta, being in Michigan for about 8 months. Throughout his journey, Detroit was never an option. He kindly avoided my insistences to look into it. I could tell he wasn’t interested, so I backed off.


His post read, “That time when TurboTax asked me, ‘was your job in 2013 located in a Qualified Disaster Area?’ and I seriously considered saying yes…” with 8 likes and no comments. I immediately felt betrayed and angry and spent a good deal of time thinking how I should respond. I’ve thought through the sarcastic route (“Yes, the RenCen is truly a disaster zone, akin to post-quake Haiti or the decade-long Myanmar refugee camps”), the smart-ass route (“What exactly about a 7-tower skyscraper on the riverfront with valet parking and a sky-top steakhouse is similar to a disaster zone?”), the subtle route (“Dislike”), the polite-and-disappointed friend route (“I’m disappointed that you would post something so negative about the city I live in”), the positive route (post a bunch of links to positive Detroit stories. E.g. Rebel Nell, The Empowerment Plan), and even the angry-but-hurt friend route (“Just to let you know, a lot of people call this place home, and making a witty comment at our expense doesn’t make you cool”).


No matter how I weighed each response, none of them had the impact I wanted. I wanted to be able to tell him: you’re comment is inaccurate and it is not cool to expense others to prove to your Facebook friends that you are mildly funny yet responsible. I also wanted to touch the people reading his status; start getting them to think of Detroit in a non-bankrupt/crime/blight type of way. None of my options did that. Because, what happens when I make any of these comments? I would likely be written off as promoting my cause. What I mean is, on Facebook, when someone posts about their political viewpoints, a social issue they are passionate or the company or product they have to promote for their job, they often get ignored. I am certain everyone who can view my Facebook page knows I am a fan and proponent of the city of Detroit. I would bet that many of my Facebook friends cast me as “that girl who likes Detroit.” I say this because I do it to other people. I know exactly who is passionate about marathons, who leans far to the right, who doesn’t understand why people are poor, who actively campaigns for gay rights, and who is shamelessly trying to advance their career via social media. I associate these posts with the person, and if I’m not interested in “their issue” I know to skip over their posts without even thinking twice. Sure, those posts will always get some love, but usually from the same people who are also passionate about that issue and are always commenting on it. The challenge is thus two-fold; reach a greater variety of people to engage in thinking about the city of Detroit and to communicate the truth about Detroit in a way that is genuine yet unassuming.


How can we effectively communicate positive things about Detroit without being promotional about it? Sometimes, it seems the only true way is a slow and natural way, in which we share our experiences with the world and hope people see the good in our lives that come from being in Detroit. I know that strategy will work over time, but how far can it reach? I continue to struggle with directly communicating my thoughts on Detroit without sounding either like an advertisement or a hostile resident who is obligated to defend her home. It’s tough to be heard sometimes, especially when it comes to unpopular opinions, but it’s even harder to be heard in the way you meant to be heard.

Where Did March Go!?!

Where did March go!? It came and went so quickly. Even though it was gone in the blink of an eye, I achieved many of my goals (Look back at my December Blog to see them) without even realizing it! Here they are:

· Doing More Community Service/ Mentoring a Young Girl: I conducted my interview to become a Big Sister, and I was matched with a potential big! I am so excited. This is something I’ve wanted to do for an extremely long time and I figured what better time? I’m young, want to change the world, and want to inspire the next generation.

· See a Show at the Fox: I went to see Robin Thicke at the Fox Theater! The Fox Theater is such an historic entertainment venue in Detroit so I’m happy I can scratch that off the bucket list!

· Visit More of Detroit’s Historic Places: I attended a show at the Fisher theater and also (thanks to the social committee) went to the Charles Wright Museum of African American History. I really enjoyed the museumbecause I’m a big history buff, especially Black History. My favorite exhibit was the one about Legal Pioneers in Detroit. I thought I knew a lot about civil rights law and civil rights pioneers, but I learned so much. For instance, I learned about George Crockett, the co founder of what is believed to be the first racially integrated law firm in the United States. I even learned about some cases I had never heard of: i.e. the Smith Act Trials, Sipes v. McGhee and People v. Ossian Sweet et al (Can you tell I took notes?)

It’s always so fulfilling to not only set goals, but to attain them. As I began this year my theme was to be fearless. And although the above things are not necessarily life changing goals, I think it’s good to always try and experience new things. So as I look to April, I hope to continue to be fearless and work towards achieving some of my even larger goals/dreams.

Summer Lovin

It’s no surprise to anyone living in Detroit (or likely to anyone living in a Midwestern state), but this has been a particularly rough winter. In fact, to the dismay of many Michigan elementary students, this winter’s total accumulated snowfall was just shy of shattering the State’s all-time record of 93.6 inches: a record that was set in 1880.


But just last week, despite persistent rumors that the winter season may, in fact, never end at all this year, the grey skies parted, the incessant western winds quieted and Detroit, Michigan had its first real day of spring. The day was made even more miraculous by the fact that it was the Tigers Opening Day and in the ninth inning, they managed to beat the Royals 4-3.


Now, I’ve got to admit that I’m not really a baseball fan, but living in Detroit/Metro Detroit/perhaps the whole State of Michigan means knowing the score of most sports games, even when you’re not seeking them out. So I might not be looking forward to a whole lot of baseball jargon I don’t understand this summer, but seeing as the sun is shining, the weather is fine, and I can’t see any snow from my window,  I thought that this month, I would share a quick list of what I am excited about during the coming Detroit summer.


11.  The Expansion of the Detroit Riverwalk


The Detroit Riverwalk is set to expand west this summer by over a mile- a construction project I have been watching from my apartment window for several months. With lots of open green space and uninterrupted views of Canada and the Ambassador Bridge, I can’t wait to stretch my legs on these trails. Read more about all the projects being taken on by the Riverfront Conservancy here:



10. Sand Volleyball


Thanks to Come Play Detroit, this summer I will get a chance I haven’t had since high school to play some competitive volleyball. The added bonus? After every game I can enjoy some of Detroit’s best pizza and some good brews at Z’s Villa. Check out all of the summer sports leagues available at:



9. Bike and Brunch/Slow Roll/ biking to work


After nearly 6 months of letting it collect dust in my parking structure, last week I finally broke out my bike and rode it to work. Now that I’ve somewhat got my biking legs back, I can’t wait to get back to biking with Slow Roll on Monday nights, taking my bike to the Green Garage in Midtown Tuesday through Thursday and, my favorite, taking awesome tours of the finest biking and dining Detroit has to offer (not to mention the coolest people I’ve met) with Detroit Bike and Brunch. Got a bike? Join us on a ride:


8. Belle Isle


At this point, it’s probably becoming obvious that I’m just jonesing for some sunshine, but I really am looking forward to spending some weekends this summer enjoying the newly State-leased Belle Isle. Swimming, picnicking and sunshine awaits here:


7. The New Detroit Dog Park


Anyone that has had to survive having an active dog in an apartment this winter knows what I’m talking about: this dog park cannot come soon enough! Located in Corktown, the Detroit Dog Park is set to be the first off-leash dog park in the City of Detroit. While an official deadline for its opening has not yet been released, you can keep up with the progress (and even volunteer to help) here: And in the meantime, the Old Tigers Stadium hosts a “pop-up” dog park the third Saturday of every month from 11-1!


6. Detroit River Days


Last summer I missed the Detroit River Days by just a couple of weeks, making me even more excited to check out this weekend of events this summer. Mark your calendars for the 2014 Detroit River Days on June 20-22 and keep up with the planned events here:


5. Music Festivals: Movement, DEMF, Jazz Fest and more!


Before I knew anything else about Detroit, I knew about its music scene. And so far I have not been disappointed! This summer I am really looking forward to attending some of the famous music festivals Detroit is known for including Movement, the Electronic Music Festival and Jazz Fest. Check out these shows and more summer events at:


4. Outdoor Adventure Center


It’s coming… And judging by the progress made even through the harsh winter months, it’s coming soon! Detroit’s Outdoor Adventure and Discovery Center to be located in the recently renovated Globe Building along the Riverfront will offer an opportunity for visitors to experience a variety of outdoor activities in an amazingly realistic adventure park. I hope to check out some simulated outdoor adventure as soon as this place opens its doors! More details here:,4570,7-153-10369_64258—,00.html


3. Eastern Market


Now don’t get me wrong, Eastern Market was still very much alive despite feet of snow and icy roads, but I’m excited for all the locally grown produce to start popping out of the ground and showing up at the farm stands now that the weather is finally thawing out the ground. There’s just nothing quite like a summer shopping trip at Eastern Market! Check out vendors and other EM events at


2. Beer Festivals


Like many of my generation, I really enjoy a good, crafty brew on a hot summer day. Luckily the State of Michigan is known both for its beers and its beer festivals and I can’t wait to check a few of them out this summer! I’ll see you at the following:


1. Getting to know my city even better


But most of all this summer, I am really looking forward to continuing the endless exploration of this great city. I’ve got my cohort of 30 amazing fellows and so many other great friends in the city that I can’t wait to spend my summer with. Won’t you join us?

Looking ahead

There have been a lot of really great things about my time in Detroit so far, and one of them has without a doubt been the weather. Well, maybe not the weather exactly- coming off of four years in Southern California, Michigan’s record breaking winter has certainly been an adjustment. But despite countless cold and dark mornings spent scraping the ice from my windshield and the ever-worsening potholes on Woodward, distinct seasonal change has been a welcome part of my life in Detroit.

In honor of our most recent seasonal jump into Spring**,  here is a list of some of the things I’m looking forward to as the days get longer, the evenings get warmer, and the snow finally melts:

Wednesday night movies at New Center Park- Nothing says summer to me like outdoor movie screenings. New Center Park is right across the street from my office, and I’m excited to spend some evenings lounging in the grass and enjoying an outdoor movie.

Parker Street Market- I’ve been a huge fan of my West Village neighborhood since day one, but it just keeps getting easier and easier to love as more Detroiters and businesses move in. Parker Street Market will be opening right down the block from me in early April, and I can’t want to stop by and check it out. While I try to do most of my grocery shopping at Eastern Market on Saturdays, it will be SO convenient to have a new market close by for those mid-week grocery needs.

The New and Improved Belle Isle- It was a controversial decsision to hand control of Belle Isle over to the State, but Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources has promised a number of improvements to Detroit’s somewhat neglected island park. I loved the tail end of ‘beach season’ at Belle Isle last summer, so I’m really looking forward to taking advantage of the upgrades (and sunshine!) this summer.

Slow Roll- Slow Roll has become a Detroit institution, with the weekly Monday night bike rides drawing thousands of Detroiters on two wheels. I’ve never been an avid biker, but it’s hard not to find something to like, between the event’s bar-anchored start and end points, and the community excitement the rides generate.


**I am choosing to ignore Michigan’s perpetually cold and snowy weather and go by the calendar demarcation of Spring. Despite the fact that was snowing as I wrote this post.

March!…is gone.

March went something like this:

  • March 1: I attend Dawn Seekers an event hosted every few months by Triumph Church. Dawn Seekers is a women-only gospel event that attracts guests from all over the state!It began bright and early at 6am and ended around 8am. Marvin Sapp was our special musical guest and his performance was awesome! If you ever have the opportunity to attend I suggest that you GO!
  • March 2: I participated in this years Fight for Air Climb. This event takes place in efforts to battle and bring awareness to those fighting and affected by lung cancer. Fellow fellow Miguel and I raced to the top of 75 flights of stairs in the RenCen located in downtown Detroit. I discovered I am not in as good of shape as I thought, however, it was an amazing experience and I am happy to said I did make it to the top.
  • March 5: A number of Fellows and I participated in Partner Mornings with Corner Stone Charter Schools. Through this program we get to go into classrooms and interact with elementary school children. The kids were so excited and it was so inspiring to give something back to the future of Detroit.
  • March 13: I was able to attend an event entitled Be Healthier Detroit. This event featured different members from RunThisTown, Come Play Detroit and a number of other initiatives taking place in the city all aimed at making Detroit a healthier place. This event was held at Bamboo an amazing co-working space downtown and catered by social sushi (really good sushi!!!!)
  •  March 27: Happy Hour! I  was hosted along with my fellows (and many other fellows making a difference in the city) by PWC at Firebird Tavern where we got a chance to hear from some amazing leaders in the city of Detroit and made a number of new friends.
  • Lastly this month I got to attend the MEDC LiveWork Detroit Dinner held at the Garden Theatre. This dinner included a panel featuring one of our fellows (Shivani Naik) and a few other representatives of programs aimed at revitalizing and changing the perception of Detroit. The food and company was amazing!

That’s all for now! Thanks for reading!

Series of Opportunities

A unique element to the Challenge Detroit program are the leadership discussions and workshops we are able to regularly participate in. During these workshops, we are introduced to CEO’s, entrepreneurs and other leaders in Detroit. These leaders tell their personal stories of how they got to where they are in life and share advice for future leaders of Detroit.

At our most recent leadership Friday we heard from Melissa Howell, the Senior Vice President of Global Human Resources at GM. It was great to hear the experiences of her professional career. Not only is she a great female role model, but she shared very genuine advice for all young professionals. She emphasized the point of seizing any opportunity life presents. Howell shared two times seizing an opportunity changed her life and furthered her career. The first was the initial opportunity to take an internship position with GM and the second was to take a position overseas. Even though she was pregnant at the time, Howell still decided to jump at the opportunity to work overseas and this allowed her to gain a global understanding of GM.


I feel this is one of the best pieces of advance to follow in life, both personally and professionally. Looking back, I can recall a few recent times that jumping at an opportunity has changed my life. Challenge Detroit is a prime example. I had heard about the program and thought the concept was such a unique idea, but didn’t really know what I should expect on a day-to-day basis if I made it into the program. Instead of letting uncertainty stop me from applying, I seized the opportunity and the rest is history.

Howell also shared that she had no plan for her career path. She explained that passion leads the career and should be considered over a strict plan because things are always changing and requiring you to adapt. Following your passion I think is one of the most important elements of a career. It was reassuring to hear Howell admit she did not have a plan mapped out for her career, but followed what she was passionate about. I hope to encounter more exciting opportunities in the future that will further my passions and have the confidence to accept whatever challenges or uncertainties they bring.



How Innovation is Fueling a City’s Resurgence

The following copy is an excerpt from a recent article I published on Medium. Check out the full version here.

detroit harmonie

Sometimes our greatest creations come out of our darkest hours. The constraints we face are often the impetus for new and creative ideas.

In 2008, the world witnessed a recession cripple some of the nations most industrious cities and hard-working families. There was no American city hit harder than Detroit. With over one quarter of the workforce unemployed, many considered the city a desert for growth and innovation.

The future for Detroit seemed bleak. There were many who doubted the city’s recovery; and with a troubled financial and political network, many wondered if Detroit could ever come back.

While the outside world watched in horror as a great American city collapsed at its hinges, native Detroiters rallied. You see, Detroit is the innovation capital of the world.


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