Friday, May 30, 2008

When we arrived as GIEU Detroit on 8 May, my relationship with the city was a smattering of blurred and isolated childhood memories: a day at the museum, a dance competition at Cobo hall, a hockey game at Joe Louis, a Tiger's game at the old stadium, a trip to the zoo. I knew token history about the city - how it was the home of automobile innovation, how it bustled at the turn of the last century, how it had been the hub of motown music, how there had been violence here some decades before I was born, how it has been experiencing white flight, and oh - don't forget - Eminem lived here, too. In the past, I found that people will often know the name 'Detroit' even if they don't really know of Michigan. The world knows about Detroit. Or does it?

Detroit carries a stigma - Detroit?! Why would you go there?! One really can't answer that question until he/she has come here. Pre-GIEU, would answer quite un-specifically, saying, "To discover the gems of this city that carries a tarnished reputation." We have seen many of these gems: the Renaissance Center, the Spirit of Detroit, Comerica Park, the Detroit institute of Art, Zeitgeist, Burt's, Eastern Market, Belle Isle, the Heidelberg Project and Mexican Town to begin the list.

As Monkeysarecool... said earlier, Detroit is a friendly city. This was certainly one of my first impressions. In Detroit, it seems inappropriate not to acknowledge another person. I especially like running along the river walk in the morning. Although the streets surrounding are devoid of pedestrian traffic, there are a number of people about the river walk walking, running or sitting and all of them are friendly. I exchange greetings with all of them, and occasionally I'll get a 'keep up the good work!' These exchanges aren't long but they stitch together a sense of community and goodwill that fosters connection and community.

I see this at the Capuchin soup kitchen, as well. The folks there are friendly and at any given table at any meal I was able to engage in gratifying conversations with perfect strangers. What I enjoyed even more, though, was the opportunity to listen to and observe the dynamics of the soup kitchen community. People know each other there, they share life together, they seek out each other to ask, "You alright?" I ate in the East Quad cafeteria for two years. Everybody knows all sorts of people at every meal, but the community at the Capuchin kitchen way supersedes what I observed at school. We've come to Detroit to explore community and how it builds. Well, guess what. Community is here and it's happening! Of course, community must grow, but it is very clear that Detroiters are a community and they are surviving. Together.

A little snippet on communication, too. Caitlin posted a beautiful creative writing response to the prompt "I am..." I particularly like the lines:
"writing and speaking--saying and clarifying,
trying to make people understand something that i can't even solidify."

Caitlin captures the complexity of communication - how do we have the courage to try and express what can't be can't be held onto and can't be infallibly organized and sorted? Somehow we find the audacity to do so and somehow we clarify and keep clarifying as things keep changing. Grace Boggs exhorted us to say, to find words to describe what we see and feel. She said if we can't find the words than make them up. I agree. It's hard to do and it can be scary. As Caitlin says,
"it's that crumbly cob ball that breaks apart every time i try to put it in just the right place."
To attempt communication is as risky as it can be rewarding.

We have been on the listening end of communication a lot during our time here. We have had the honor of meeting with and interviewing remarkable people: Malik Yakini, activist and community leader; Grace Lee Boggs of the Bogg center; the Capuchin friars; Patrick and Stacey at earthworks; Ms. G. Asenath Andrews, Principal of Catherine Ferguson Academy; Father Tom Lumpkin of the Day House; Sharon of the Day House; Lolita Hernandez, our dear house mom who we have learned is quite the local celebrity(!), and I'm sure I'm forgetting someone(s). These people are distinguished men and women who know Detroit intimately. They are respected and sought after thinkers, each with particular values and approaches to their city and our world. They have challenged us from all different angles and given us many feasts for thought. Now, it time to sift their words through our minds. We must talk with each other and the people that we will be with when we leave Detroit. By combining the words and experiences of others (from in or out of Detroit) with our own, we love the city in the way that the pastor at Hartford Baptist described last Sunday. We make the city necessary to us and ourselves necessary to the city. This our opportunity, priviledge and responsibility.

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