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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.








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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.



1 down. 142 to go.




Fish Fry Season in Detroit

For those of you who don’t know, Lent is a time when many Christians prepare for Easter through fasting and spiritual exercise.  Another feature of the Lenten season is the arrival of Fish Fry’s.  Having gone to a Catholic School my entire life, Fish Fry’s were a pretty significant part of my childhood.


Fish Fry Time

In my experience, Fish Fry’s are a communal way for Christians to abstain from meat on Friday’s in Lent.  They also serve as a way to raise money for churches and other non-profits.  Whether or not you are Christian, or practice Lent – it is worth it to check out some of our local Detroit Fish Fry’s!  I have done some research and here are a few of the top rated Fish Fry’s in the area:

  •  Sweetest Heart of Mary Church - This Fish Fry goes from 3pm – 8pm every Friday in Lent (aka from now until Easter).  Dinners include, Fried Fish, Baked Fish, Fried Shrimp, Mac-N-Cheese, French Fries, Baked Potatoes, Pierogi dinners and Fried Pickles (aka – lots of options).  When I went, they were also doing tours of the church, which is beautiful and definitely worth checking out!

sweetestes heart of mary

  • Gaelic League – 2068 Michigan Ave – 5-8PM.  In addition to serving Fish dinners for only $8, there is also live music on Friday nights!
  • St. Francis D’Assisi Church in Detroit – 11am – 6pm – another highly rated Fish Fry in the area.
  • Fraternal Order of Eagles – 5640 Maybee Road, Clarkston MI – This one is a bit of a drive from Detroit, but they serve 2 kinds of fish (Cod and Halibut) and you get all you can eat for only $9!

These are only a few of the Fish Fry’s in the area.  I strongly recommend checking one or two of them out.  The volunteers who work them are usually very friendly and the communal atmosphere makes for fun conversations with new friends.

Fresh food, jobs for Detroit’s neighborhoods: RecoveryPark’s mission

Last September, I began my Challenge Detroit Fellowship and joined the incredibly talented and passionate team at my host company, RecoveryPark.

In 2010, RecoveryPark launched not only to convert blighted land in the City of Detroit into urban agriculture and aquaculture businesses, but to spur economic development in Detroit neighborhoods (beyond Midtown and Downtown) by creating jobs for the Detroiters who live here.

Last year, RecoveryPark built a pilot farm in Detroit to validate key aspects of our business model, and we are proud to say that produce from our pilot farm has already been, and continues to be, featured on the menus of several high-end Metro-Detroit restaurants including:

Selden StandardThe Republic TavernJohnny Noodle KingBacco RistoranteThe Stand Gastro BistroThe Root Restaurant and BarStockyard DetroitStreetside SeafoodTorinoCuisine, and Forest Grill.

More recently, we took over 40,000 square feet of indoor greenhouse space in Oakland County that had fallen into disuse. Over the course of the next year, we will be using the space as a research and training facility to increase our production ten-fold, sell to new restaurants on our waiting list, and continue to work toward the realization of our social mission (creating jobs for individuals with barriers to employment) by adding six associates to our team, and building out our Associate Support Platform (ASP) alongside our partners at SHAR House and Michigan Rehabilitative Services.

RecoveryPark’s ASP model is unique and will offer a systemic change in the way Michigan can approach the challenge of chronic unemployment, starting in Detroit. There are 200,000 unemployed and underemployed residents in Detroit, 71% of whom face barriers to employment (returning citizens, recovering addicts, individuals with low literacy).

Traditional workforce-development programs generally focus only on short-term support (about three months) and are managed by non-profits and social-service agencies, not employers. By utilizing the ‘collective impact model,’ the RecoveryPark ASP team will coordinate three years of personal and workforce-development support services by connecting Associates (employees) with partner organizations throughout the city- ensuring that they have access to adequate housing, life and job coaches, and mental and physical health services.

RecoveryPark also has a few other noteworthy opportunities on the horizon for 2015.

Alongside Ford Motor Company, RecoveryPark is co-sponsoring NextEnergy Center’s NextChallenge-Lighting. Participants from all over the world will submit ideas to advance agricultural lighting systems. The winner will get up to $80,000 to implement a design that will maximize our greenhouse energy efficiency and extend our winter food production.

Click here to watch an information video about NextChallenge-Lighting

We are also working closely with Mayor Duggan and his team to determine our expansion options in Detroit. Over the next ten years, I am proud to say that we expect to create over 1,000 jobs in Detroit’s “local, live, fresh” food movement.

To learn more about RecoveryPark, visit: and

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“I’d like to thank the Academy…” Going to the Movies: Detroit Edition

You guys. February is legitimately a time I look forward to every year. Might sound radical considering I’ve spent my entire life in Michigan – but it is award show season and I unashamedly love it. My award show fondness mainly stems from my complete adoration of movies. Long, short, incredibly sad, rom coms, sweeping fantasies, bleak dramas; I don’t discriminate. One of my hobbies is voraciously ingesting movies at an actual movie theater (maybe because physical activities are not always a priority – get at me). I just so happened to be able to combine two of my things for the first time this past month: Detroit and going to the show.*

*Going to the show might be an old timey Detroit saying, so in case it is, it means going to the movies. You can blame my parents for instilling it in me.*

For all those rebels like me who refuse to wait for a movie to stream in this godforsaken digital age, follow me on my journey through my favorite movie houses in The D.

Cinema Detroit
First introduced to me by fellow fellow Carmen earlier in the fellowship, in my opinion it the coolest place to catch a movie in the greater metro Detroit region. Playing independents and classics alike in what used to be a school, it’s an experience begging to be had.

Detroit Film Theatre
This arm of the Detroit Institute of Arts is a lavish venue to take in a film that will undoubtedly open your eyes wide. Their offerings are made to make you think. As the DIA’s biggest fan, my first trip to the Detroit Film Theatre only made the institution lovelier to me. I also had the pleasure of attending my first official red carpet event here this month, Hollywood in Detroit. We screened the Oscar nominated live action and animated short films. Disclaimer: I cried through most of them, though it’s not hard for me to do. In one of the foreign films nominated there was even a little bit of Detroit present – one of the DJs had a Tigers hat on.

RenCen 4
A mainstream movie theatre showing four of the current biggest blockbusters located in the heart of Detroit’s own mini city, the Renaissance Center. It’s convenient, it’s both quaint and modern, and they even have a mini bar on the weekends. Bonus – they use old school film.

Suburban honorable mentions:
The Maple Theatre, Bloomfield
Main Art Theatre, Royal Oak
MJR Southgate Digital Cinema 20, Southgate*
*This is my longtime movie theater and I had to give it love. There are 20 screens! It saw me dressed up for many a midnight show back in my heyday.

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