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Ubuntu

A calm breeze swells and swirls around my exposed legs. Traveling north from Canada, it crashes against the weathered, concrete walls of Studio One and washes over me as I enjoy this cool spring night from my balcony. It is 9:21PM and, having just finished a home-cooked meal of sauteed banana peppers and roasted garlic marinara spaghetti, this is the first time I have left my apartment today. The day was beautiful- celebrated by my Ultimate Frisbee team in Ann Arbor, Cinco de Mayo festivities in Southwest, a rummage sale in New Center and the Art Fair in Palmer Park- but I chose not to participate. I spent the last thirty-six hours lulling in-and-out of sleep and isolation. Self-prescribing a steady dose of bed, couch, bathroom; repeat. I put myself in a place of infinity, lost a sense of time and let the outside world become foreign.

Some things in life are so enigmatically impossible to process that all you can do is experience them- the last week I spent at the Youthful Cities Global Summit in Toronto one such example.

Toronto will come to me in waves, ripples and concentric circles. It is more than a single event; it is many. Instances of Facebook comments, Skype calls and nights spent on couches across the world- the experience will cascade down my rolling hill of existence until one day it gracefully unfurls in a grassy meadow, complete. A few years ago I fell in love with the South African concept of Ubuntu and never in my life has it resonated so deeply.

In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu-

“A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”

Last week was a baptism for me. I’ve carried significant insecurities and discontent with me for so long that it has threatened my humanity; my Ubuntu.  Out to prove to some unidentifiable deity that I have worth, I’ve carried a chip on my shoulder that has disregarded others and damaged relationships. Ubuntu is community; Ubuntu is purpose. I found both last week.

This Thursday, Challenge Detroit Year 4 Finalists will gather from all over the country [and possibly world] for the opportunity to interview for a fellow position with a Challenge Detroit host company for next year. Each applicant will be stressed, even overwhelmed, but unbeknownst to most of them they will become a part of something greater than themselves regardless of whether or not they get hired.

In early February, someone I had never met posted a link to the Youthful Cities Global Summit application saying “I think someone from Detroit should go to this”  in a Facebook group dedicated to all of the past years’ Challenge Detroit finalists, The Challenge Detroit Network. I applied. A link that took that woman seconds to share, changed me for the rest of my life. That is Ubuntu.

A Different Kind of Big Sister

This past summer I had the honor of serving as the Unit Head for a group of 50+ high schoolers. The campers arrived at the campsite at the end of June confused, uncomfortable, judgmental and often self-conscious (to be expected of a group of boys and girls that just completed their first year of high school). However, when they left Camp in August, each and every camper had grown into a more loving, understanding, mature and confident version of him or herself.

At my camp, it is tradition that these “Senior Campers,” as they’re referred to, write letters of thanks to each of their staff members at the end of the summer. These letters bring me to tears each time I read them; they remind why I returned to Camp for so many summers and spent every last ounce of energy to ensuring that the transition I described above actually happened. Beyond that though, the content of those letters reminds me of how crucial it is for kids to have a mentor in their lives. Often times, this role is not and cannot be fulfilled by parents, friends or other family members.

I’ve always loved kids and playing a role in their positive development. To be honest, I still consider myself a kid at heart. So when I moved to Detroit, I knew I wanted to find a way to fulfill this passion. General Motors has a partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro-Detroit and so when I received an email about signing up for the Lunch Buddies program, I didn’t hesitate.

I knew that the kids I would be working with would likely have grown up very differently than the kids that I’ve worked with in the past. I was nervous, but excited to get started. On the first week of the program, I met my little sister: a shy, 3rd grade student with a big smile. For the first few months I could tell how uncomfortable she was. As the youngest of four kids at home, she wasn’t always the center of attention and didn’t know how to react to my interest in her school, social and home life. Each time we did an activity, I made her read the material aloud and sound out each word she didn’t know. I asked a million questions and expected full answers.

Now, just a few months later, she asks questions of me and tells me stories about her weekend. Just last week, we had the chance to participate in the Take Your Kid To Work Day Science Fair at GM. The smile on her face from the moment she walked in was not paired with the shy nature I observed a few months ago; I could tell her confidence had tripled. We bounced from exhibit to exhibit, learning about waves and energy and eating freeze-dried ice cream. At the end of the day she hugged me and I was brought back to the feeling I got reading the letters my campers wrote me last summer.

My hope is that our relationship will continue to grow even outside the program and that this one little girl, one of millions of kids that could use a little bit more attention, will one day realize the impact she can have on others like her. I know she still has a lot of growing to do, but who doesn’t?

There are a ton of great mentorship programs available to get involved with. I encourage you all to look into giving just an hour or two a month if you can. Each program is different, so see what works best for you and jump right in. You’d be surprised how much you learn from them.

Let’s Talk Talent

The war for talent is over; talent has won.

I heard this quote while attending Challenge Detroit’s most recent company networking event, discussing the attraction and retention of talent in the Michigan region, and specifically within the city of Detroit. Engaging in this dialogue opened up many insights from an organizational perspective, on ways to better foster millennials and new talent at their respective companies. I thought a brief reflection would be a good follow-up to my last blog.

We as millennials want to work in a fostering, encouraging, and supportive environment. We want to feel valued, we want to be challenged, and we want to be able to continually grow and develop both in our current skill set as well as expand our experiences in other skill sets as well.

Never stop learning.

A word of advice from a senior executive at an established company encouraged young professionals to never stop learning. He reflected that for more experienced and established individuals like himself, his generation was trained and educated for a working world that no longer exists, while us “younger folk” are trained and educated for a world that we may not see for another 10 years or so. In this respect, it is important for companies to foster this continued learning experience. Without adaptation, there will be limited growth, and with limited growth comes limited success.

I’m looking forward to seeing the release of new host companies for next year’s class of fellows, for Year 4 of the Challenge Detroit Program. Looks like we’ve got an exuberant group on the way!

Check back in later this month to see the announcement of new host companies for Year 4!

The Violence

“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” -Gandhi

This has been a year of violence. The violence of police brutality has lead to violent, and peaceful, protests in many parts of America. Of course the usual rhetoric around these types of events is that violence is not the answer. But to play devil’s advocate, is that really true? Our non-violent protests have earned results, but mainly due to the grotesque violence inflicted upon them being seen on TV and shocking the country. This lead to more support for the peaceful prtesters which helped strengthen their cause. At the same time, the threat of violent protests showed the public what may happen if the peaceful protests are not heard. To be frank, our country is built on violence. The violence of slavery, the violence against the native people, the violence against other countries to gain freedom and territory and even violence that split this country into two warring sides. This may also be the reason violent protests are feared so greatly, they may actually create change.

On the other hand, violence may be the bane of our country’s existence. Some may argue we gained freedom through violence, but violence was a last resort. Violence for the most part has only caused systemic problems in our country. The violence of the civil rights movement and the Civil War would not have existed without the initial violence of slavery. The violence of the wars with the natives would not have existed without the initial violence inflicted upon them by their new neighbors. Violence does indeed beget more violence. It lead us to the point where we have weapons that can literally detroy humanity in its entirety. The frustrations of the violent protests are understandable, but the reality is usually the neighborhoods the frustrated parties live in are the ones that are decimated. Violence usually has not created many lasting positive results.

To me, violence seems to not be a valid answer. We as a global society have gotten into a cycle of violence. It makes it harder to be peaceful when that peace can be met with the violent cycle. Examples of that include the martyrdoms of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and countless others known and unknown. Some argue that peaceful protests have only gotten the disadvantaged to a certain point, but violent protests will probably only continue to push us back. I do think of things like Haiti’s revolution where slaves actually gained independence through war, but that was a different time and different circumstances. The disadvantaged in America could not win a violent war, with America having one of if not the best armed forces in this world’s history. Plus what would we gain through violence since we would have to probably use violence or the threat of it to sustain what was created. This cycle would continue. I’m not sure the answer but one thing I’m sure, it’s not violence.

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5 More Places to Shop in Downtown Detroit

If you haven’t read the first edition of this two-part #shopDetroit series – stop reading and check it out here: 10 of the Best Shops in Detroit. Why are you still reading this, silly? Get your credit card(s) ready and jump on over to that glorious list. I’ll be here waiting.

 

Now, here are five more ways to #shopSmall for huge style points in the OG (that means ‘original gangster’, mom) of fashionable shopping districts in America – special shoutout to J.L. Hudson.

 

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1. Tulani Rose

4201 Cass Ave. | Midtown, Detroit | website

On the corner of Willis and Cass, just around the corner from Avalon Bakery, you won’t find a Tulani Rose sign. Instead, you’ll see a bright yellow marquee that reads “Spiral Collective.” Step inside, take in the scent of Barr and Co. candles and Cellar Door soaps, and you’ll instantly begin drooling like one of Pavolv’s dogs. Just try not to drool on the art from local Detroiters, proudly on display in this lifestyle boutique. Sidenote – if you buy the pineapple soap DO NOT eat it. I repeat, DO NOT EAT IT. It smells exactly like fresh slice of juicy pineapple but I promise you it is truly just the most delightful bar of soap in the world. Lather with caution.

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2.  Vera Jane

3011 W. Grand Boulevard | Midtown, Detroit | website

This eclectic women’s boutique is nestled in the first floor of the Fisher Building specializes in “refined elegance with downtown decadence.” I’m still not exactly sure of what that means, but their blissful selection of vintage jewelry will blow your mind and fill your heart sunshine and sparkles so who cares? Am I right?

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3. The Peacock Room

15 E. Kirby | Midtown, Detroit | website

Okay, hold on. Tell me that notebook print scarf you just scrolled past isn’t the cutest thing you’ve ever seen in your life. You can’t. It’s perfect. Just like all of the other handbags, necklaces, hats, scarves and earrings that line the tables and walls of the fully-restored Park Shelton where The Peacock Room thrives. Added bonus – they also sell antique furniture and unique artifacts to add some flair to that awe-inspiring bedroom of yours.

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4. Nest

460 W. Canfield | Midtown, Detroit | website

This little shop is the holy grail of every girl’s ~*~Dream Living Room~*~ board on Pinterest. Located just across the street from Shinola and a flap of the wings away from it’s sister store, City Bird, Nest carries home decor provisions that could make a pile of twigs look like the Sistine Chapel.

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5. Division Street Boutique

1353 Division Street | Eastern Market, Detroit | website

Division Street Boutique serves as a home base store front for Aptemal Clothing and the infamous “Detroit Hustles Harder” apparel that can be found in nearly every closet of every Motor City native or enthusiast. By sponsoring and promoting local artists and hosting live demonstrations and events for the community, Division Street Boutique ‘hustles harder’ (literally) to positively impact and engage in the Detroit community. How neat is that!?

By the way, before you head out for a good ol’ shop-till-you-drop adventure in the D, you should print out this nifty full-listing of local shops courtesy of Detroit Experience Factory.

Detroit is blooming with shops, both new and old, for you to explore and earn major style points. I mean, why would you go to the same old mall, shop at the same old stores and pick through the same clothes as all of your friends, when you could feel good and look even better by shopping for that #ootd – nay #ooty (YEAR) –  worthy ensemble in support of Detroit?

 

*drops mic*

Stretch Runner

This is my favorite time of the year. Birds are chirping, people are sitting on their porches, and winter coats have disappeared. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching Detroit come back to life with Slow Roll, cookouts, and outside sports. The month of April included a trip home to speak at my Alma mater and a lovely day at the horse track in Lexington. Being a small history buff, I seem to become hyper aware of historical events during the month of April. This phenomena happens because I do remember history class growing up; and also because the accounts I follow on Twitter remind me. Nevertheless, I think it is important to share some vital American history facts that have occurred during April – one of my favorite months of the year.

April 4, 1968 – Dr. Martin Luther King was killed by a sniper in Memphis, Tennessee. He is best known for his “I Have a Dream” speech delivered at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington. His efforts eventually led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

April 6, 1896 – After a hiatus of 1500 years, the first Olympics of modern times was held in Athens, Greece.

April 9, 1865 – The Civil War effectively ended as General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant in the village of Appomattox Court House. Approximately 500,000 soldiers died during the war.

April 9, 1866 – The Civil Rights Bill of 1866 was passed by Congress giving blacks the privileges of U.S. citizenship.

April 11, 1970 – Apollo 13 was launched from Cape Kennedy. An oxygen tank exploded fifty-six hours into the flight in the service module and astronaut John L. Swigert saw a warning light that accompanied the bang. This is where the famous phrase “Houston, we’ve had a problem here” came from.

April 12, 1861 – The bloodiest war in America’s history began as The Civil War started when Confederate troops under the command of General Pierre Beauregard opened fire at 4:30 a.m. on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina.

April 12, 1961 – Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.

April 14, 1865 – President Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot while watching the play “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater in Washington. He died in a nearby house the following morning at 7:22 a.m.

April 15, 1912 – In the icy waters off Newfoundland, the Titanic, with 2,224 persons on board, sank at 2:27 a.m. after hitting a large iceberg just before midnight. During the next two and a half hours, over 1,500 persons drowned while 700 were rescued by another ship, the Carpathia.

April 18, 1775 – The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere and William Dawes occurred as the two men rode out of Boston around 10 p.m. to warn patriots at Lexington and Concord of the advancing British.

April 20, 1945 – The Battle of Berlin, which was the last offensive of the Ally forces in World War II, began.

April 30, 1789 – George Washington became the first U.S. President after taking his oath in New York City.

April 30, 1967 – Heavy Weight Boxer Muhammad Ali was stripped of his boxing championship after refusing to be comply with his American military draft notice.

Please don’t think I forgot about our beautiful city of Detroit! Here are two vital April facts that occurred right here in the “D”.

April 16, 1895 – The Detroit Free press renamed the “Detroit Creams” the “Detroit Tigers”. The name “Creams” came from owner George Vanderbeck who used to say the team would be the “cream of the league.”

April 21, 1806 – After a fire burned down nearly all of Detroit on June 11, 1805, the Michigan Territory was established effective June 30, 1805 as a separate territory with Detroit as the capital. Newly appointed judges and governors convinced the United States Congress to pass an act on April 21, 1806 authorizing them to lay out a town that included all of the old town of Detroit plus an additional 10,000 acres to be used as repayment for persons who lost their property in the fire.

Photobomb

Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and

uncomfortable when you try something new.”                               Brian Tracy

 

The quote above describes a lot of my Challenge Detroit experience, and I will plan on embracing it as I take on my CD newest roll – “Photography Lead”.  My extensive background in photography classes, awards, and professionalism can be easily be summed up:

1) I own a phone that takes picture

2) I’ve taken pictures of friends/family in unique situations

3) My mom likes some of those photos on Facebook.

With that weak background, plus the fact that I’m following two previous Photography Lead Pros (Jon & Alyssa), I should be freaking out. However, I am embracing the mantra of the quote, and am up for the awkward uncomfortable challenge.

I also have a two pronged approach to becoming a serviceable photographer:

1. Practice – I plan on taking a ton of shots! The more I take, theoretically, the better I will become. Plus, it’s easier to find a couple primo pics when you can choose from hundreds of options.

2. HELP – I plan I soliciting advice from as many people as possible. Whether you are a treasure trove of photography knowledge, or have an eye for telling a story through photos, I would love your help (starting below).

 

I recently restarted my P90X routine (great transition huh?), and one of the steps is to take before and after shots of your body transformation. Now there is no way I’m displaying these photos, but in the same vein, I thought I could show some photos I’ve recently taken (not all in Detroit, sorry CD leadership). Hopefully, in four months one will be able to see some “growth” in my photography skills.

PS – I’m already open for business when it comes to advice/tips, so hit me up with your thoughts based on the shots below.

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I Met a Man

If you knew me, you would know that I like to run. Through running, I’ve explored many cities, domestically and abroad. Running has given me many chances to understand the geography of a place. Through running I’ve found safe spaces and not so safe spaces, hidden public art, wanderers, locals and tourists. I’ve been asked to give directions, I’ve had short conversations in which I’ve been asked what mile I’m on, and even congratulated for my efforts. I have had all of these interactions and more in the streets of Detroit. One interaction though I will never forget.

Detroit Riverfront

 

I finished one of my mid-week training runs and stopped on Woodward, just past Comerica Park. From a distance I saw a man. I’ll be honest, he sparked my interest. I only saw the back of his head at the time, and there was a part of me that was instantly drawn to him. I became curious and started to ask myself “I wonder where he came from”, “what is he doing?”, “what is he holding?”, “how long had he been traveling?”, and “would he be bothered if I approached him from behind?”

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Brush Park, Detroit

 

I continued to walk closer and finally found the courage to approach the man in a wheelchair whose name I came to learn was George*. George was likely in his late 60’s. I was interested in George’s story because he seemed to have a life I wanted to learn about. I learned that it had been 10 years since George had visited downtown. He recently moved to the Midtown area in November, and finally got a chance to pay the waterfront a visit. George told me that years ago no one was around, and that his stroll down Woodward was a pleasant surprise. He said “there are many diverse groups now.”

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The Old Tiger Stadium, Corktown, Detroit

 

George travelled almost 3 miles in a wheelchair to spend the day fishing. Sadly, he was unsuccessful and left for home empty handed. I don’t want readers to remember his unsuccessful fishing trip. Instead I want readers to remember this man’s determination. Before George made his way down Woodward Avenue using his own devices, he attempted to board a public bus. George waited for the bus only to find out that he missed it by 20 minutes. Rather than waiting for an unknown amount of time for another George took it upon himself to find his own way down Woodward to the river. That’s determination!

George had just one leg and arm that were mobile. He used one of his legs to propel him forward, the other was the obvious cause for his special mobility. One of his arms was used to hold a fishing pole which I learned once prevented him from entry on a public bus because it could be used as a weapon. The man used one arm and one leg to travel down one of the most travelled streets in southeastern Michigan, I should also add that it’s in disrepair due to the construction of the M-1 Rail.

I walked with George for approximately 5 blocks. In that time I listened, asked questions, and talked to a stranger that I may never have interacted with had it not been for me running that night. The interactions that I’ve had on the streets of Detroit make me happy to live here. People are welcoming, they’re open, they are gracious, open and humble. George was all of these things.

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Dequindre Cut, Detroit

I have a chance to write about my experiences each month in a blog to share with whoever is willing to read it. These moments of self-reflection and remembering what I’ve done over the past month are a special time in which I can think about the many positive things that have impacted my life here. I want to remember George. I think about him and the many people who live here that have to find alternatives to get where they need to go because they lack access to transportation.

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Eastside, Detroit

Some don’t want a helping hand. George certainly didn’t seem distressed about missing the bus. He was simply happy that the sun was shining and he got to experience it. Would his experience have been better had the bus been on time? Would his experience have been worse? Would George have caught a fish had he been on the bus? These questions may not have answers, but they’re certainly worth asking and thinking about.

I greatly benefitted meeting George on a random April day. I hope I run into George again, and I hope I listen to my inner voice again.

*I’ve chosen to omit the man’s name so he remains anonymous.

For the love of Clark Park

In my humble opinion, I believe that Clark Park is the greatest park in the city. Though this park does indeed have some stellar counterparts (Belle Isle mostly, Mt. Elliott Park, Lafayette Park…), what differentiates Clark Park is its robust and engaged programming that ignites community connections. This, to me, is what makes a great neighborhood park. I’ve been thinking about how much I love my neighborhood and Clark Park a lot lately, and once I read this piece in Model D Media, I’m only more certain that this park rules.

Since I live in Mexicantown, my apartment isn’t more than a 10 minute walk away from the Park, and I feel grateful that I can access this community space on a regular basis. Just last Saturday my pals and I spent the afternoon around the neighborhood and stumbled upon a Children’s Day festival sponsored by Matrix Human Services. How much greater is a neighborhood with kids playing in the park and sidewalks? The answer is a million times greater, and events like this at the Park create this type of playful, safe environment for kids, their families, and other residents like me.

Some other simple ways that Clark Park is great:

  • It’s walkable! Not only is it located in the heart of the Mexicantown/Hubbard Farms neighborhood, it’s surrounded by sidewalks and pedestrian friendly streets for easy access.
  • It’s nearby yummy restaurants! What’s a warm day in the park without an ice cream or horchata? Pretty worthless, indeed. Thankfully, the park’s proximity to restaurants, bakeries, ice cream shops and cafes will ensure a worthwhile day in the park.
  • It has community programming for all ages! This park focuses on families and, as the above article notes, building strong social infrastructure. Strong social infrastructure means that people can live and work well together, across boundaries like cultural or generational lines.
  • It’s clean! Of course, there are more than several parks around the city that are disheveled, unsafe and therefore extremely un-fun. Clark Park is none of those things, and more so, is well-maintained with plenty of trash bins, walking paths and lots of grassy space.

As a very active kid, safe neighborhoods and parks were fundamental in my childhood and adolescent development. When I remember spring and summer afternoons on my bike and frolicking in parks around my neighborhoods in suburban Ohio and New Jersey, I wonder where those spaces are for kids and families in Detroit. I see Clark Park as an emblem then as a safe and positive community space for neighbors of all ages. I see Clark Park as a symbol of strong social infrastructure and neighborhood empowerment.

How can we leverage what’s worked in Clark Park to other parks around the city? How can we create spaces for kids and families to build community across social boundaries? For the love of Clark Park and in the spirit of warmer weather, I propose we, Detroiters, Americans, world citizens alike, look to our parks as a means of building stronger neighborhoods and communities.

Mom’s Day

I am not the biggest hockey fan in the world, count the Tigers and Michigan State sports above the Detroit Red Wings in the list of my favorite teams, but I remember the 1997 Stanley Cup Playoffs clear as day.

 

My mom, a native Detroiter, made every game an event that early summer, but most memorably was the Stanley Cup she made and placed on a bench in front of her house. Made out of bowls and pots and covered aluminum foil, I swear it looked like the you had to carry it with the white gloves.

 

The wings won the Stanley Cup that year, for the first time in my Mom’s life, and I remember picking up that makeshift trophy and running around the yard like had just finished playing along side Darren McCarty and Vladimir Konstantinov.

 

The Wings lost in game 7 last night, knocked out of the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning, and it reminded me about that early summer in 1997 and about my Mom, and frankly that Mother’s Day is around the corner. I thought about the city of Detroit and how funny it was that I lived here, the place where my mom grew up and the place where she hasn’t seen much since the 70’s.

 

I am very much a product of my mother. My mom, one of 11 children born to blue collar parents on the Northwest side of Detroit, loves people. Nothing gives her more joy in life that helping others. She always taught he to put others first, and it’s something I try to strive for every day. She taught me that hard work pays off, and that if you try your best everything will work out.

 

I remember staying up late studying in High School and having her quiz me for tests I had the next day, sometimes doing it at 2 in the morning. I remember her long life talks that she would give me when something in my life wasn’t right. I remember how proud she was of me graduating high school and then college, a feat that during middle school may have seemed dim.

 

With out her encouragement and faith in me, I wouldn’t have made it in to MSU and graduated with two degrees. Without her showing what service meant I probably wouldn’t have done a program like City Year or Challenge Detroit , both programs she wishes were around when she was my age.

 

While I probably don’t call her enough, or visit her enough (she’ll say), I am very grateful to have had a mother like her, and am grateful to be back in Michigan to celebrate Mother’s day with her, where she’ll get to watch her second son graduate from MSU. A feat that was very much because of her.

 

Happy Mother’s Day Mom!


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