“You may write me down in history/With your bitter, twisted lies/You may trod me in the very dirt/But still, like dust/I’ll rise.”
I have read the articles most of my life…
Detroit is the murder capital of the world, the most dangerous city in America, the Beirut of West.
I have thought it, hell…said it, a few times myself.
Yet, I remember it differently in my young mind.
I remember playing on my block on Burns on the Eastside, between Gratiot and Warren as a kid…all the homes on the block occupied by Black successful families. Seeing the d-boys drive down the streets in Fleetwoods with woofers taking over the whole trunk and making their cars vibrate to Run DMC.
Walking home from St. Cecilia Elementary School down Livernois, a group of us, fourth grade to sixth grade, making our way home, stopping at the penny candy store where the man behind the counter topped with plastic jars lined in plastic bags full of Sour Patch Kids and Jolly Rancher sticks knew our names.
Throwing my skates over my shoulder to go to Northland Roller Rink, and roll bounce to JJ Fad, and try to skate backwards to Computer Love.
Arriving at the Boblo dock downtown, at the end of every school year to get on the boat and hustle to Stevie Wonder, and see whose version of the Schoolcraft was the sweetest.
Going to the State Fair in High School to play games, eat the yearly elephant ear that left powdered sugar on my new outfit, and talk to the boys that walked past and broke their necks trying to catch a glance.
Taking class pictures with my girls in matching outfits.
Going to get dance team outfits at Mammoth on Grand River.
Going on my first real date at the Bel-Air movie theatre.
Driving around Belle Isle thirty times blasting the same mixed tape over and over and over…
The closest I came was being at a party that got shot up, yet standing on John R and 6 mile at midnight trying to call my mother from a dirty pay phone…yes a pay phone…my biggest fear was what she was going to say.
I never saw the drugs and the guns. I knew they existed and I was aware, but I wasn’t apart of that culture. So for me, Detroit, was always home. It was where I learned about myself. It was where I was educated, where I learned to want more, in part because of my surroundings. It represented the best of life and the worst of life. It was festivals and parties, murdered friends and dying blocks. But it was home.
“Out of the huts of history’s shame/I rise/Up from a past that’s rooted in pain/I rise/I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide/Welling and swelling/I bear in the tide. Leaving behind nights of terror and fear/I rise/Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear/I rise”
Today, I see it with adult eyes. I pay taxes, a mortgage, a water bill. I got thieves breaking in and stealing my packages. I got young boys throwing Dorito bags on my lawn… “Excuse me young sir, but the trash bin is not my grass!”… and I correct them swiftly.
I see my property value decreasing, and my car insurance increasing. I wake up to a broken car window, a runaway Rottweiler in my yard, and go to sleep to gunshots and sirens.
I also sit on my porch in my well-manicured neighborhood and watch my son ride his bike, the kids play basketball.
I see weeds as tall as men in the parks and the streets look like images I have seen of the moon. Businesses are closing, some are opening, city services are all but non-existent except in those tax bases. Yet every once in a while, I see the sun really come out. I see the community gardens, the residents cleaning up debris and garbage. I see the for sale signs coming down, and moving company trucks pulling up. I see change coming. I see those of us, who love this city, doing our part to take it back…to keep each other safe.
This city is much like my high school’s mascot. At Renaissance, our mascot was the Phoenix. The Phoenix is a mythological bird that continuously rises from the ashes of its ancestors. The kids that went to school with me (#demninefoes stand up) are some of the most successful and brightest imports from this city… in the country! We have become the leaders and best all over the nation. We are the generation that will help resurrect Detroit from the ashes of financial despair, political instability, and social chaos! We will rise into the steps of our ancestors who fought to resurrect this city after the riots, and who kept it afloat after white flight!
You can call a thing any name you like, but it’s spirit is what gives it its meaning. If you were raised on these city streets, you are one of a kind! Here, you can see beauty and fear in the same block, the same square foot. A sea of suits and ties becomes a pond of panhandlers. A $50 thousand dollar car sits in front of a home with a foreclosure notice. An outsider would see confusion. A Detroiter sees opportunity.
We have a spirit of resurrection. Neither proud or ashamed of our faults, we recognize there is no perfection, but in hard work there is the promise of progress and success. We didn’t come this far only to come this far! So the next bankruptcy, corruption, murder capital article you read…remind yourself that this city is not just a dying infrastructure but a living testimony!
And still, like dust…we will rise!
Excerpts from “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou