Before working here, I split my time being a teacher evaluator in Detroit Public Schools and a Lyft driver. Most of my daytime passengers were Eastsiders who needed rides to work at plants in the suburbs. Black Eastsiders who taught me that taking a Lyft is more reliable than trusting the DDOT bus to be on time; who taught me that even though ride-sharing is expensive, it is still more affordable than owning a car and paying between $500 and $600 a month for the country's most ridiculously expensive auto insurance.
When I was in the suburbs, as Lyft works, I would get requests near where I'd drop off my neighbors. Now, it's true that most of my passengers, regardless of the zip code they resided in, were kind and considerate people. But it is also true that the only awful experiences I had were all in the suburbs. The rudest, most demanding, and most threatening individuals I had to share a car-space with all hailed from Oakland and Macomb counties. The average riders north of 8 Mile were adults who needed rides because they had a DUI; older folks needing to get to doctor appointments and run errands; or city folks needing rides back to the city around 3pm after their morning shifts at GM in Warren and other plants.
But as I've written about in previous posts, even the nicest suburban passengers would, too often, utter disparaging comments about Black Detroiters. Rarely was this venomous or said in a way that echoes what news outlets might call "racist behavior." No, this was the euphemistic comments that "nice" white people speak when they are sure only white people are listening, things like:
"I've also thought about being a Lyft driver, but aren't you worried about picking people up in Detroit?"
|The King of Badmouthing Detroit|
Patterson's descriptions about Detroiters have been far too effective for decades, and he keeps getting re-elected. (Not even mentioning his policies!) If, as you're reading this, you believe that you're certainly going to get mugged if you find yourself too many blocks astray from Woodward, and too far north of the Boulevard, his words have sunk in. Now I'm not saying there are no dangers in this city. Every city has dangers. But to be fair, so does every college campus. So does every suburban high school, (just ask our kids in the "massacre generation"). So does every home with a parent misusing drugs, whether that is crack cocaine, crystal meth, or prescribed narcotics. And desperation and despair, especially when mixed with firearms, is extremely dangerous everywhere. But Patterson's powerful platform has purposefully shaped the hatred of Detroit. His trickled-down ideology fueled the shock and outrage our suburban neighbors would hurl at my parents as we were heading out to events in the city, stammering so hard their pink faces turned red, shouting, "are you crazy, do you wanna get your kids shot?"
Back on the roads, some of the most disturbing comments I'd hear from my afternoon passengers were about the teenagers in Detroit when we'd be driving by high schools letting out. The sentiments seemed to fall into two categories: either these young people were reduced to merely criminals-in-training, or they were just pathetic and needing of an overwhelming amount of charity, so much help that those "compassionate" riders felt hopeless.
Amidst these juxtapositions floating around in the backseat of my Honda, it dawned on me:
I didn't really know any Detroit teenagers. So when Teen HYPE offered me a role, I enthusiastically joined the team.
|That time they taught me Crazy 8s|
At the time, I was the only white person on staff, and being that I entered the space as a "straight" white male (straight is not really accurate, but that's for another blog), I knew I was entering a sacred space as an outsider. Even though I had a legitimate job, I was still a guest, especially as far as the youth were concerned. And yet, the welcome I experienced at Teen HYPE reminded me of how the New Orleans East community fed me vegetarian gumbo my first year as a teacher in 1999, even after going through a meteoric burn-out when I was exposed as a ridiculous white savior wanna-be. I knew a little better this time, I would enter with a posture of listening, of gently asking to hear stories and share pieces of my story when asked or when it seemed appropriate.
Sadly, in my active listening, I can affirm that there are, indeed, dangers in Detroit. But not so much for me. More for the kids growing up here. There is trauma involved when too many fathers and uncles are taken from families and have long prison sentences for petty drug crimes. There are fears walking to and from school, with subtle and overt pressures to engage in all kinds of risky behaviors. There is anxiety living amidst jobless and bankrupt neighbors, or even caretakers, within a city that recently declared bankruptcy, whose desperation might lead to destructive outbursts. Mental health is a real concern here; suicide prevention interventions are truly needed here. More job opportunities are also critical, jobs that meet a diverse range of needs and draw from a diverse range of talents. And though I can't put my finger on it directly, I believe that the Pattersonian messaging, recycled over and over again, has not only infected the thoughts of our suburban communities. I suspect those negative views of Detroiters have been internalized by our young citizens, and may have a subconcious impact on their collective sense of self-worth and value.
But these realities are not the whole story.
Teen HYPE is interrupting this narrative in a profound way by first acknowledging the real struggles that young people face, but then never allowing that to be where the story gets stuck. And this, for me, tells me Detroit's future is in much better shape than we've been led to believe. I can say that I've gotten to know young people who are poised to become our city, state, and nation's vision-casters, organizers, and leaders. These are brilliant, resilient, compassionate, and hope-filled members of our community. And that is something to celebrate.
In fact, I am literally overwhelmed with how much positivity I experienced during my time here. So here are some snapshots of the story, but keep in mind that these are only some moments from the past 18 months of Teen HYPE's nearly 15 year journey:
|The Studio Museum in Harlem|
|Practicing Design Thinking with Detroit Riverfront Conservancy|
|One of the opening scenes of Mis-Taken?|
|Me, CEO Ambra Redrick and Alum Mia Monet at art show|
|Alternatives To Jails|
|Garbage Bag Chic|
|Gearing up to climb in West Bloomfield|
|Cobo Hall Presentation|
|Ambra, Brandon, Marlowe Stoudamire, myself, and Dorothy|
|Youth Summit Breakfast, 2018|
This connected quite seamlessly into our annual YouthQuake last August, where our core Teen HYPE leaders welcomed new high school students into the fold during a week of community service and civic engagement. The week led up to our Youth Summit, where these teens brought their stories and newfound perspectives to the table in dialogue with Detroit city council members, pastors, educators, entrepreneurs, and developers. If the city wants young people to stay and live locally after they turn 18, we fervently believe they need to involve their voices at the planning tables, immediately. We set those tables.
|Teen HYPE with Mayor Mike Duggan, city leaders, and health professionals|
|Teen HYPE youth on billboards and buses to promote iDecide Detroit|
To L. Brooks Patterson and all your many fans, I want you to know:
Teen HYPE proves that you are very wrong about Detroit.
You've missed it. And, for your lack of being in touch with reality, I feel sorry for you. But the young people who are growing, learning, and leading are preparing to take your place, soon. You really should mark your calendars for the 2019 play, but please don't come if you're not willing to listen with an open heart.
Before signing off and pushing publish on this blogpost, I also must take time to celebrate and express deep gratitude to my coworkers. I have been taught, time and time again, that it is not the job of Black people, or predominantly Black organizations, to teach Whiteous people about reality. It is not the responsibility of people with brown skin to help people with pink skin understand their explicit, implicit, and too often, complicit roles in systemic racism and its connection to chronic poverty. It is not black folks job to make white folks feel comfortable. And yet, you decided to do just that with me. I am forever grateful for your trust, patience, and friendship:
To Dee for teaching me all the ins, outs, and politics of coalition building in Detroit while listening to me vent and vent and vent about the insanity of eTapestry: thank you.
To LaRon, and Olushola, for teaching me how to tie a bow-tie and then just doing it for me when I couldn't get it right: thank you.
To Sherisse for showing me New York City through your eyes, and hanging out with me in Austin when we were trying to figure out what exactly they meant by Detroit Style Pizza: thank you.
|From A Night In Paradise at The Whittier, 2018|
To Ife for teaching me the joys of veganism even though I'm not there, yet, and for letting me drop in on your Yoga classes: thank you.
To Stephen-the-soon-to-be-Rookie-no-longer, thanks for letting me stir the pot in your Aaliyah versus Beyonce battle.
To Camille for reconnecting me to what is going on in the gay community, how much different it is than I remember from my days in Ann Arbor, and for letting me rest my healing leg on your office chair after my surgery: thank you.
To Mary for teaching me the secret powers of the P.S. in annual appeal letters even though you know that's not my native language, and for asking me to help design the donor appreciation event: thank you.
To Myriha for helping me find my creative voice again, by showing me the power of activism through art: thank you.
To Demitria, that after all you've been through, you still had time to bring a forgetful guy his keys. Thank you for opening your life, and your journey, to all of us.
To Callie, Callie, Callie Callie Callie, for best friending me over Game of Thrones and not firing me when I couldn't quite remember our secret handshake week to week: thank you. And thank you for razzing me, time and time again. Just remember, paybacks are on their way.
|COO and Co-Founder Franky Hudson|
|CEO and Co-Founder and Walker's Legacy Power Award winner, Ambra Redrick|
You are family, because you chose to adopt me.
With love and admiration,
"Make yourselves at home and work for [Detroit's] welfare. Pray for [Detroit's] well-being. If things go well for [Detroit], things will go well for you." -Jeremiah 29:7, The Message (with additional paraphrasing)
P.S. You can truly know that you're investing in Detroit's future by giving to Teen HYPE today. Choose positive youth development that isn't afraid to confront real barriers and build sturdy bridges of ample opportunities. Make your #GivingTuesday donation here!