Blog

The CHALLENGE DETROIT Blog


Warning: Missing argument 2 for wpdb::prepare(), called in /home/challorg/public_html/blog/wp-content/themes/challengedetroit2013/functions.php on line 660 and defined in /home/challorg/public_html/blog/wp-includes/wp-db.php on line 1197

June 26th

In less than four months I’ll be married. I don’t think it’s fully hit me yet, and it probably won’t until sometime in September.

As a child of divorce I often thought I would never get married. What was the point? Why spend all that money? Do you really need a piece of paper to validate a relationship? Is all of this just societal pressure? What if we have a kid and his life is spent bouncing around two different houses if we get divorced?

I am not necessarily sure about the answers to these questions, but I do know that my outlook on marriage has changed. I am excited about it now. I am excited to have a teammate for the rest of my life. I am excited to be able to lean on someone when things are tough, to share in the joys of life, and everything in between. I am excited to compromise, to get frustrated and work through it, and to become a better person because of a relationship.

To be fair, this all can be done without a legal marriage. We could just live together for the rest of our days and many of these things would happen. However, the act of being married is a special validation of a relationship in our society. It is a milestone achievement in people’s life.

I met my fiancé over 11 years ago, in a chemistry class at our high school. Marriage is not only the next step in our relationship, but it also provides a venue to for us to make the ultimate life long commitment to each other. I am excited for it.

IMG_1075

As a white, heterosexual male, I haven’t had to worry about society’s view of my relationship, or what rights my partner and I would have when we wanted to get married. All I had to worry about was finding the right person for me, falling in love, and some how convincing her that spending the rest her life with me would be a good idea. It’s been pretty easy in a sense, and I am excited that the same road for my gay friends just got easier too.

 

On June 26th, the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalized gay marriage in the United States. I’ll forever remember where I was when I heard the news. I’ll remember who I texted and I’ll remember the joy I felt for my friends who could now be married and have that marriage recognized in every state.

I remember telling my friend a few years ago that gay marriage would be legal by the time I was 50. He laughed it off and argued that it wouldn’t be. Little did I know that it would only take a fraction of that time.

I am proud of a growing public opinion that supports gay rights, of the countless amount of same-sex couples that fought for this day, and of the fact that our beautiful system of checks and balances worked out so well. As July 4th approaches, I’ll be especially proud to be an American.

Summer in the City

The summertime has always been a season of change for me in my life. As a typical millennial, I have changed jobs and career pathways a few times already, and the summer is always the time that this seems to happen. Despite this slight added stress, I have been immensely enjoying my time in Detroit with the BBQs, the beautiful views and the occasional brew or two.

I have also been contemplating, yet again, the process of figuring out “what I want to do with my life.”

This question has been repeated again and again since I was in elementary school and it never ceases to strike a strange chord in me. I’ve never been a person who grew up knowing that, for example, animals were my passion and I was going to be a veterinarian no matter what. I envy those people. The ones who may not see the way, but they see the destination.

Those people are few and far between, I believe, and more of us are in a sort of mild haze. I know the direction I want to go, and the directions I definitely don’t want to go, but I am very open and willing to see what the future brings and to be along for the ride.

I’m not a Businessman; I’m a Business, Man: June Monthly Check In

For this month’s blog post I wanted to highlight some of the great entrepreneurial resources in the city. So without further adieu:

 

Techtown_Coworking_Space

Techtown is Detroit’s business innovation hub. As the city’s most established business accelerator and incubator, they provide a powerful connection to a broad network of resources, catalyzing entire communities of entrepreneurs best poised to energize the local economy.

Techtown offers classes and support for both tech and place-based business and has helped create over 1,000 jobs in the area.

Ponyride_Building

Ponyride provides inexpensive space for socially-conscious artists and entrepreneurs to work and share knowledge, resources and networks. They offer a collaborative space for an amazing $0.20-$0.25 per square-foot, which includes the cost of utilities. They have over 25 organizations in the space in addition to individuals and businesses utilizing the co-working space.

http://www.motorcitymatch.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/MCM-main.png

Motor City Match helps businesses locate and thrive in Detroit by matching the best businesses from the city and around the world with Detroit’s best available real estate. The program provides competitive grants, loans and technical assistance to help building and business owners realize their dreams in Detroit.

http://hatchdetroit.com/resources/home/homeitem-20150501155409.jpg

Hatch Detroit is a vehicle to champion and support independent retail businesses in Detroit through funding, exposure, education, and mentoring. Founded in 2011, Hatch Detroit was created to give others the opportunity to have a role in the redevelopment of Detroit. Hatch hosts an annual contest where one savvy entrepreneur wins a $50,000 grant to open their brick and mortar retail business in Detroit, Highland Park, or Hamtramck.

The Contest was built on an idea called “Crowd Entrepreneurship” where average citizens have a role in voting for the type of retail they want in their community, and determining the winner of the Hatch Contest.

http://www.swsol.org/pages/assets/prosperus_header.jpg

The team at ProsperUS Detroit believes that residents, small businesses and neighborhood groups in all neighborhoods have the talent, energy and ability to engage and revitalize their own communities. It is their mission to empower entrepreneurs and community partners to transform low-income neighborhood economies from within. ProsperUS Detroit works with entrepreneurs and community organizations to revitalize neighborhoods by concentrating micro-enterprise development in low-income immigrant and minority neighborhoods.

http://buildinstitute.org/facebook.jpg

Build Institute helps people turn their business ideas into reality by providing them with the necessary tools, resources, and support network in Detroit. To date, they have graduated over 500 aspiring and experienced entrepreneurs from our classes, many of whom have gone on to start successful businesses in the city. In addition to classes, they offer networking events, mentorship, connections to resources and a nurturing community that allows ideas to develop and flourish over time


This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the great entrepreneurial resources in the city. Comment below with some of your favorites.

This month’s post is brought to you in part by Jay-z.

 

 

Back in February, I shared a poem that had gotten me thinking and reflecting throughout the halfway point of my fellowship with Challenge Detroit. Now that we’re on the brink of July and the final weeks of this experience, I thought I’d share another favorite reflective poem of mine.

What is there beyond knowing? Mary Oliver

What is there beyond knowing that keeps

calling to me? I can’t

 

turn in any direction

but it’s there. I don’t mean

 

the leaves’ grip and shine or even the thrush’s

silk song, but the far-off

 

fires, for example,

of the stars, heaven’s slowly turning

 

theater of light, or the wind

playful with its breath;

 

or time that’s always rushing forward,

or standing still

 

in the same — what shall I say –

moment.

 

What I know

I could put into a pack

 

as if it were bread and cheese, and carry it

on one shoulder,

important and honorable, but so small!

While everything else continues, unexplained

 

and unexplainable. How wonderful it is

 

to follow a thought quietly

 

to its logical end.

I have done this a few times.

But mostly I just stand in the dark field,

in the middle of the world, breathing

in and out. Life so far doesn’t have any other name

but breath and light, wind and rain.

If there’s a temple, I haven’t found it yet.

I simply go on drifting, in the heaven of the grass

and the weeds.

 

As I think about this past year, I think about my need for resolution.  I remember my idea that the solutions and deliverables we created in both our host companies and in our Challenges would be implemented and solve problems. In reflection, here are some things that I know:

  1. Diversity is important. Disclaimer: there is a lot to unpack in what this word actually means and implies. For now, I know that my life feels fuller with a diversity of experiences, relationships, and perspectives. Professionally, I’m learning the value of diversity of community stakeholders and cross-functional teams. As we consider the future of Detroit, perhaps we can continue to commit to conversations and development that are inclusive, varied and therefore, diverse.
  2. Self- care is important. While this year has been filled with the obligations of my role at Fiat Chrysler and my fellowship at Challenge Detroit, I’ve been determined to carve out more meaningful, personal time for myself. And as I continue to spend more time exercising, cooking, reading, I learn how challenging the reality of self-care actually is. How can we create environments that are more conducive to wellness and self-care? In my opinion, this is a factor to consider in Detroit’s landscapes.
  3. Friendship is most important. Connecting with my fellow Fellows outside of our Friday workdays has been so foundational to my personal growth this past year. My peers in this cohort are energizing, challenging and inspiring, and I have felt constant gratitude for each of them throughout this experience. It is truly to the credit of the leadership at Challenge Detroit for bringing together such unique, genuine leaders. And again, to their credit that we have inevitably spent an enormous amount of time together in various social, cultural and volunteering events throughout the year. As a result, my community in Detroit has never felt stronger.

While we begin our final individual Impact Challenges in July,  I want to carry these reflections with me. I want to remember what I know, and let go of my need for resolution. Some things may go on drifting in the wind and the weeds, after all.

Shining a Light

As fellows we’re asked to write about our experiences in the city. Most of the posts I’ve written thus far have been positive in nature. This month I’m taking a different spin because I think it’s only fair to highlight some of the not so great things about Detroit that many don’t like to talk about.

Prior to moving to Detroit I lived in Indianapolis, another urban environment.  I knew early on that Indianapolis wasn’t for me; I was there for one reason which was to get my Master’s degree. I had a hard time transitioning to Indy despite it being in my home state. I was never able to kick the negative emotions I felt while living in central Indiana, I never truly felt at home. 2 years was far too long for me to feel unsettled if you ask me. Detroit and Indianapolis are different and similar in many ways. One major difference though is that I was immediately welcomed by Detroit and that continues even today.

During grad school I couldn’t help but see similarities in the two urban environments and surrounding areas. Detroit and Indianapolis have their fair share of blighted streets and affluent blocks surrounded by struggling communities.  Detroit and Indianapolis are located in the state’s poorest counties, Wayne and Marion respectively. Two cities surrounded by cities and counties that have the highest property taxes in the state. The dynamic is unreal but yet no one really wants to talk about it. Gentrification is occurring in Indianapolis much like it’s happening here in Detroit. Public transportation is laughable in both communities; anyone without a car is disadvantaged to the nth degree. Mobility is a huge limiting factor in one’s quality of life and economic mobility.

While in grad school I learned about public finance and different policy and economic tools governments use to stimulate economies. I asked questions that my professors didn’t really know how to answer because they hadn’t experienced a grossly underserved community aside from viewing it from a data driven lens. It was the short answers that drove me to learn more.

The reality in Detroit is that 39.3% of the population lives in poverty (2009-2013 levels), only 77.6% of residents 25+ have graduated from high school, and approximately 142,000 people (1/5 of the population) were at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure this past year. City police officers are overworked and underpaid, and few public servants in the city of Detroit have had a pay raise in years. The Olympia Development and M-1 rail projects have Woodward on lockdown until 2017 and are expected to bring the city millions of dollars. The progress is ongoing and I continue to experience it daily with the rotating orange safety cones changing regularly, the public lights being added one by one, and large formerly vacant lots are being renovated for rent or sale.

In Indianapolis, 20.4% people live in poverty, approximately 84.5% of residents 25+ graduate from high school, one in every 646 homes faced foreclosure in 2014, and the urban core lacks market rate housing. There are plenty of restaurants and walkable streets including the Cultural trail and Georgia Street, two tourist destinations that encourage walkability and connect the cultural districts to one another. Living there it was all disconnected and in many ways segregated.

The main difference between Indianapolis and Detroit is that Indianapolis is 61.8% white and Detroit is 82.8% black, those numbers are likely low given the data is from the 2010 Census.

We have a long way to go, yes. The city’s landscape is in much need of repair. People still need jobs, the homeless need jobs and a safe place to sleep at night, and children need an education that offers them a chance for a successful career. All of these realities are true.

These challenges are present throughout the country and world, they just happen to stare us all in the face and all we do is talk about them. My goal is to take a stab at tackling some of these pressing systemic challenges even after Challenge Detroit ends. I want to participate in the development of a stronger Detroit, not watch the change happen around me.

 

Reflection

I’ve always lived my life from the perspective of how I might look back on it. It’s been a blessing and a curse. It helps me to appreciate a moment, but sometimes, I get lost in the actual moment as I struggle to digest it in hindsight. This week and the next few will highlight that supreme struggle. As my friends and I prepare to leave and ultimately say goodbye to the life we’ve built for ourselves in Detroit, I will reflect both on the past several years and reflect on the moments I find myself in.

While Detroit has often felt like a revolving door, it has unexpectedly positioned itself as a home. As I work through the transition, change, and growth that will come in the next month, I hope to balance my chronic struggle with reflection and perspective. I hope to look back on the years with happiness and gratitude and without sacrificing the end of this era. I hope to look back and look forward but remain present as I come to terms with what this time has meant to me.

More to come at the end of July.

In the passenger seat

For a carless person in a city with extremely limited public transit, Uber has been a lifesaver on more than one occasion. For those unfamiliar with the app, Uber connects riders with drivers using your phone’s GPS. Not only is the service incredibly convenient, it’s actually really affordable in Detroit – a 7-minute, 2-mile trip costs about $4. However, rather than its cost and convenience, my favorite aspect of riding with Uber in Detroit is something else altogether. My favorite aspect has to be the strangers whose cars I hop into (hey, mom and dad).

If you’re reading this, chances are you know how much I love engaging with new people (strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet, after all), and that you’re rolling your eyes at how ridiculous I am. But in all honestly, I have learned so much from my Uber drivers. More than once, my driver has been so enraptured in his trip down memory lane that he has taken a wrong turn on our actual physical journey. More than once, I’ve gotten out of the car thinking to myself that the cost of the ride would have been well worth it for the conversation alone.

As a transplant, it can be difficult to engage on a regular basis with new native Detroiters – you actively have to seek out such opportunities. However, with Uber, meaningful conversations with long-time locals are effectively delivered to your doorstep.

There was the retired Comcast field technician who made a boatload in his career and retired early, and was now using Uber to fund his backyard observatory and ever-expanding interest in space (pun intended). There was the Iraqi polyglIMG_1706ot who spent his career translating for the U.S. military, who was speaking to his “Lovely Wife Luma” when I entered the car (Luma’s name was, adorably, saved as such on his iPhone).  There was the recent divorcee who was moonlighting as a driver to simply get himself out of the house while his kids were over at their mom’s place five nights a week. There was the elderly gentleman who married a woman he had unknowingly met at the roller rink when he was twelve (they’ve been married for over forty years now and have a host of grandkids), who described to me his idyllic childhood running free in Royal Oak Township, eating fruit right off the trees, and feeling rich despite having little. And there have been no shortage of Detroiters, born and raised, whose undying passion for the city impacted me far beyond the five-to-ten minute intervals I spent in their respective vehicles.

While I don’t claim to have had an enlightening conversation with every single Detroit driver I’ve met in the past nine months, these snippets only skim the surface of the stories I’ve heard along the way.  In the passenger seat, I have heard what people think of the city’s (re)development, why some fled the city for the suburbs, and why others still would never dare to do so. And I have listened to tales of family and friendship, love and loss, heartache and hardship.

These conversations have pushed me to make better use of my time, call my parents more often, and tell the people in my life that I care about them. They have inspired me to cherish my youth, spend less time in front of screens, and appreciate Detroit more than I thought possible. And most of all, they have encouraged me to keep asking questions and sparking conversations. Whether in the passenger seat or elsewhere, it’s amazing what you can learn from the people sitting right next to you.

The Home Stretch

Living six hours away from home means I typically bake a phone call into my plans every Sunday afternoon. It is not a chore, nor is it vexing to spend an hour on the phone with my parents or other family members who might be around the house when I ring. I followed this usual pattern on Father’s Day last week and called my Pop to spend some time with him.
“Hey, it’s Pop” my Dad answered. He and my mother had attended church that morning, had gone out to eat for the sixth year in a row to “BJ’s” in celebration of the holiday, and were currently babysitting my 4 month old niece – relaxing Sunday no doubt.
We spoke about the usual – cars, jobs, family, etc. However, at the end of our conversation, I was able to thank my dad for many things he has taught me. My father educated me how to act right, treat people right, and be a man through words and actions. Without a doubt, the list of what I’ve consciously and subconsciously learned from my dad is interminable, but there is one very tangible item I can share, and that is a book.
Every time I came out of a piano lesson as a kid, my dad was there waiting for me, and he almost always was holding a book in one hand and a highlighter in the other. I recall my father highlighting sentences one Saturday in a book titled “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. Years later when I could read better, he suggested I study it. However, I thought the title of the book made it sound like it was for someone who was rather lame in the social scene.
Fast forward to my junior year of college. Ah college. Class, library, class, library, right? I cracked it open in the fall semester and have never been the same since. The book is a wonderful historical narrative about honing people skills to making yourself and others happy. Examples of Dale Carnegie’s principles are drawn from the likes of President Abraham Lincoln, steel giant Andrew Carnegie, the average shoe shop owner, and every day dog walkers. Dale Carnegie’s book turned into an adult education class that sold out and toured the nation due to its success stories. There are anecdotes about business owners selling more products, marriages being saved, and friendships being rekindled on every page. You may be thinking the lessons he goes through are complex but they are not. My friends, they are simply the most human things we can do sometimes. Below are a few tidbits from the book.
“You must have a good time meeting people if you expect them to have a good time meeting you.”
“I have discovered from personal experience that one can win the attention and time and cooperation of even the most sought-after people by becoming genuinely interested in them.”
“You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.” – Galileo
“There is a certain degree of satisfaction in having the courage to admit one’s errors. It not only clears the air of guilt and defensiveness, but often helps solve the problem created by the error.”
“Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.”

These instructions have worked wonders for a variety of successful people. At its root, it’s simply being a polite human being. I hope you can use some of these ideas as you push forward.

2 months of Challenge Detroit left, wow time truly flies!  This should be the perfect time for a pure reflection blog entry (Nellie’s dead-on suggestion). However, I am taking the “if I don’t acknowledge it, it isn’t happening” approach, and choosing to put off true reflection (hold me to this? or maybe not). Instead, I want to touch on a topic that interested me this month: the sale of the Fisher Building.

It’s too bad I missed on that lottery ticket, as the ornate Art Deco Fisher Building, once dubbed “Detroit’s Largest Art Object”, recently sold in auction for 12.2 million dollars. Yes, the same small town boy who easily gets overwhelmed by NYC & Chicago’s skyscrapers has developed an affinity for the largest Detroit structure north of Ford Field.

Take a look at some of the immaculate Fisher Building photos (below) and tell me 12.2 isn’t a steal:

fisher3        fisher2      FISHER5

In fact, this is what 12.2 million has bought in other real estate deals:

Ashton Kutcher’s mansion in Hollywood:

kutcher

This Louisiana mansion:

[Photos] Check Out Justin Bieber's 10.9 Million Dollar Mansion!

Justin Beiber’s mansion also in Hollywood

[Photos] Check Out Justin Bieber's 10.9 Million Dollar Mansion!

Heart shaped Island bought by Angelina Jolie (okay this actually pretty awesome):

Island

As pretty as these obnoxious mansions are, they really have nothing on the Fisher Building:

fisher4

 

 

Tales from the Thrift

When I first committed myself to shopping only thrift for my first year in Detroit, it was mostly driven by the fact that I had to live on a budget. I’d never really done it before, besides the occasional random wander into Buffalo Exchange on Melrose Ave. when I lived in LA. But within my first month here, I introduced to a few local shops that just absolutely blew my mind in terms of quality, style, selection, and most importantly, price. And so I was hooked.

But as I continued down this path over the course of the year, I started to reflect on how much more this experience meant in the context of Detroit. In the same way that thrifting allowed me to appreciate the trends of the past and not let them go to waste or be forgotten, I realized that’s what I cherish about Detroit: driving around the city and stumbling on a beautiful building, hoping that someone will feel the same about and restore it to its once-thriving state; finding a gem of a restaurant in a neighborhood that some only dare to drive through, at high speeds, and with their doors locked; stopping to say hello to a neighbor during a walk through your neighborhood, only to spend the next 30 minutes talking with them about everything under the sun!

It only takes a little effort to find the countless experiences that make up this city magical. And I’ve been able to dig up a number of  incredible finds of my own! Here are a few of them, and my favorite spots I frequent, to get you started:

The Boodle Factory – This has to be one of my favorite ways to thrift in Detroit. Find what you like on Toria’s instagram account, send her a message, and if you live in the city, get it delivered to your front door! I’ve only been able to pick up these suitcases from her so far, but that’s only because she has such a following, that everything flies off the “shelf” instantly!

2015-06-30 19.56.18

Funky Junk and Juju – I first met Ebonee at a pop up at the The Collective in Indian Village – the selection was incredibly well curated and more than reasonably priced. As she continues to do pop-ups across the city, she also has an online shop you have to check out!

Fort St. Salvation Army – Having lived just a few miles from this place, it’s definitely my go to. I can’t tell you the number of vintage dresses I’ve picked up here, all under $7!!

2015-06-30 20.04.07

8 Mi. Salvation Army – This is quite possibly the cutest Salvation Army store ever. Located on the Detroit side of 8 Mile, just west of Mound Road, it’s worth checking out even just for the photo op.

8MiSalArm

10 Mi. Salvation Army – As if the deals at Salvation Army weren’t good enough, they have daily tag sales that cut their already dangerously low prices even further!

Untitled

Thrift on the Ave. – Right in the heart of the Cass Corridor, this shop is full of swagger!

Value World – Though not in the city proper, this one holds a special place in my heart! I found this gorgeous dress, which I wore as a bridesmaid’s dress to my friend’s wedding, for only $10.80. You just can’t beat a deal like that!

FullSizeRender


Warning: Missing argument 2 for wpdb::prepare(), called in /home/challorg/public_html/blog/wp-content/themes/challengedetroit2013/functions.php on line 660 and defined in /home/challorg/public_html/blog/wp-includes/wp-db.php on line 1197