I remember when I first moved to Detroit from a small town in northern Michigan and experienced metal detectors in my new school. I got jumped a few times, had a couple of guns pulled on me at the park, and fought back. Well, I guess I ran like hell when the gun got pulled. But, I saw the cops coming almost every time. There were unmarked gang squad cars crusing the streets, and when I needed them, the officers were there to help.
I had the occasional racial profiling, where I was pulled over for being in the ‘wrong neighborhood’ while going home, or to work. Once I was called to a cop car because I was carrying a small brown paper bag – full of mac and cheese from the corner store. Sounds like a rough world, right?
I caught the bus to Cass Tech, the John R bus, which ran up Woodward, past the adult book store entering Highland Park, filled with a potpourri of folks. When we moved from Andover near 8 Mile and John R, to Minock near Chicago and Evergreen, I started taking 3 buses, hitching the first one near 6 a.m. The people of the city were crazy and funny and nice and loving and drunk and sober. Generally, you treat anyone like a person, and they treat you like a person. I had a few jerks treat me poorly, either because I was a kid, or white, or a girl, or all the above. But mostly they were very protective of all of us kids.
A funny thing happened the other day. After the grand opening of the Belle Isle Aquarium, my family hit up Fishbones. I had my nephew with us, who has limited exposure to the city. We were caravanning, and my husband ended up split up from us, finding his own way through the city. Due to a few I-75 on-ramp closures, I zipped across Second, where the old Cass Tech was, to Henry and headed up to Woodward, reminiscing about my walk from school to the old bus stop on Woodward. Wide eyed, my 9 year old nephew was like, “Aunt Doni, you walked here? Like on this street? Should we be here without Uncle Steve?”
As always, I fiercely defended the city. I pointed out that just because someone looks, acts, smells or talks differently, doesn’t mean they are dangerous. Is there danger in the city? Sure. I would be hard pressed to ignore the facts of the rising violence in the city. But does that mean that everyone everywhere is a danger? Of course not! I wouldn’t hesitate to help anyone in the city, whether they needed a hand with a tire change or something else.
The problem I have is that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to defend my city. I can get people to consider heading to Belle Isle or Greektown. But to bridge that gap to get them to Southern Fires, a most excellent restaurant at Bellevue and Lafayette, is like pulling teeth. Just when I felt like I was making headway with my inner circle, more violence hits the news like a shockwave. People getting killed at gas stations. Kids getting shot in drive-bys. And on and on. But I have been able to write off all of those incidents as gang/drug violence, or being in ‘bad’ neighborhoods. How the heck do I even begin writing off the downfall of the city, when it starts at the top?
Mayor Dave Bing, as much as I believe he is trying to do what’s best for the city, has made himself unapproachable. At the Aquarium event, he hardly acknowledged the people around him. He was there for his required time and was out like a shot. Not even a photo op with anyone there, apart from the prearranged posed shot.
The city council is being laughed off the stage by everyone. They can’t get anything done, butting heads with the Mayor, Gov. Rick Snyder, and restricting public access to ‘public’ meetings. Regardless of how you feel about issues on the table, I don’t hear anything from council to rectify anything, just immature responses such as Councilman Kwame Kenyatta boycotting the Belle Isle meeting, saying it’s not worthy of his attention. How about a plan? You don’t like the way the city is headed? FIX IT! IT’S YOUR FREAKING JOB! Get the decisions made. Be a leader! Leaders lead by LEADING BY EXAMPLE! You think the people of the city are going to be better citizens watching you guys work? You want people behind you? Show some results.
To top it off, Detroit has ignored some of the biggest affairs in history. Didn’t anyone learn from Kwame? Now we have to deal with Godbee’s inability to keep his privates in his pants. Really? How do we defend the city? What’s worse, Godbee chooses to have his indiscretions withe someone in Internal Affairs. Awesome. Our system of checks and balances are laughable. The tidal wave of people moving out of the city is slowing down, mainly because the only ones left within the limits are either too broke to move, have taken advantage of the nearly free homes for sale, or are hold-outs – the ones who believe the city will be great again.
The city is only as good as its leadership. We can’t elect our officials because of their skin color. We can’t continue living as a city of one ethnicity or another. This is a city for everyone! Detroit was the city of dreams! People moved here from everywhere! Because it was great! It cannot ever be great if you only live for today, and only for yourself. Follow the golden rule. Love your neighbor. Care for each other. Change the culture of the city, and give the media a reason to report on Detroit’s improvement. Since the city has been unable to provide city services, take on a small task, like cleaning up the vacant lot next door. Board up the house. Set up neighborhood watches. Make the difference.
You can make the city great again.
Doniece Langdon is a native Detroit, owner of Throttle Gals magazine and volunteers for the Belle Isle Aquarium.