I was barely functioning, having only slept for a few hours the night before. My legs were pumping battery acid. I was on mile 25 of what would end up being a 36 mile ride around the city of Detroit and, since I’m not very athletic, I was, understandably, about to run out of steam.
The ride started downtown in Roosevelt Park. A park that the group of big dreamers and doers I was experiencing Detroit with for the first time frequented often for dinner, drinks and games throughout the weekend. The event I was attending — the one that had placed me in the middle of this 36 mile death ride — was called Another Detroit Is Happening.
Hosted by Summit Series and the city of Detroit, Another Detroit was an attempt to convince entrepreneurs from all walks of life that Detroit is, in fact, bouncing back.
See, Detroit’s story is a microcosm of America’s story, economically and socially. A city that used to be known for making high quality goods has seemingly stopped making high quality goods, or has stopped believing in it’s ability to market those goods. A city that used to be united and growing is divided by color, race, creed, income bracket, and political ideology. People are being evicted from their homes, and children from their schools.
That is Detroit’s story. And it’s America’s story too.
Or it’s at least our current interpretation of the story.
But it’s wrong.
On my ride through the city, I was able to see firsthand the divides that exist. Some parts of the city are still intact, and inhabited. But just a few miles from the nicer housing (some of which look like castles), there are homes missing a roof, and all their windows. Houses you would never expect somebody to live in.
Yet somebody does live there. And not just somebody. Somebodies.
While riding past most of those old run-down homes, it was normal to see a family of four standing on the porch waving to us, shouting the occasional “woo!” and cheering us on, assuring us we could finish the race.
“18 more miles!”
“Only five left!”
“Pull over if you need some water, I can run in and get you some!”
People in homes that — at current market value — cost less than my Carolla were offering me, a fairly affluent white kid from a California suburb, water. They wanted to take care of me. They were genuinely interested in my well-being, and didn’t care what I could “give” them. They wanted to give something back to me.
And they did.
The people of Detroit work with their hands. They build real things: furniture out of wood, jewelry out of metal, high quality jeans out of denim (ask me about Detroit Denim, I know a guy). Hell they even have some of the best BBQ in the country as far as I’m concerned. And I should know because I ate a lot of it. To quote my friend Gary, who did the ride with me, “somehow I was able to ride 36 miles on a bike and still gain weight.”
See, this idea that “Detroit doesn’t make anything anymore,” that “America doesn’t make anything anymore,” isn’t true. Not at all. It may be your perception, but it’s wrong. If you can peel your eyes away from Facebook for a few minutes and look around, you’ll notice that people are still making beautiful things.
Detroit is still making beautiful things. America is too.
Detroit is not in decline. Detroit is bouncing back.
America is not in decline. America is bouncing back.
Change your perception, stop complaining and get back to work.
Your legs might fall off, but you can finish this race.
These are some things that Detroit taught me.
Whenever I would tell people back in Los Angeles I was going to Detroit they would ask me “why?” with a level of concern generally only reserved for those on duty in Afghanistan. I would always answer with something like, “Because we want to see how we can help Detroit bounce back.”
And we do.
But after spending some time in Detroit I can honestly tell you that Detroit is bouncing back just fine. Detroiters are incredibly strong people with full hearts and talented hands. They don’t need anybody else to do anything for them.
That said, because of everything I learned about the city this past weekend, I want to be with them. I want to watch Detroit grow, and I want to spend more time with those people. To watch them and learn how to work just a little bit harder. How to hope just a little bit more.
I’m excited to watch Detroit finish their race, I’m excited to watch it bounce back, and I’m excited to lend a helping hand however I can. So. Just watch.
Another Detroit is happening.
[Want to see photos from Another Detroit? Check it out.]