Ok so in my pre reflection post about Detroit I mentioned all of the things I knew about the city, these are things that I’m sure make up many other peoples list of familiarity with the city of Detroit… what I didn’t realize and therefore was unable to mention, is the vast difference between Detroit’s hi-light reel (Eminem, Tigers, Cars) and their behind the scenes sneak peeks (DIA, Detroit Hostel). While I was in Detroit I had the most amazing opportunity to interact with some of the city’s youth, explore their amazing art museum, eat in their downtown restaurants, and view the sun rise between the silhouettes of skyscrapers! I experienced the electric glow of city life at night and swam through the hustle & bustle of one of the most populated malls I have ever seen in my life! For a girl raised on a dirt road lined with cows, crops, and farmyards Detroit is a whole new world, and no album Eminem has ever produced can properly convey this to the rest of society!
One of the most exciting parts of the Detroit that I was privileged to witness was the attitude of the people that surrounded me! For once I’m not referring to my incredibly fired up LAS cohort, but instead the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy students, the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy staff, and the volunteers that coordinated as well as worked alongside us at the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative service project.
From the very beginning of the trip I had been conditioned to believe that despite the school’s title, the students it housed were anything but natural leaders. I had heard that these students were enrolled in this school because it was their last resort; the student’s reputations were synonymous with delinquents and drop-outs. The staff of the school explained to us many of the disciplinary procedures put into place to keep the students on track. To me, the amount of rules imposed on these students is the closest thing to domestic torture I have ever seen, I could never imagine having so many restrictions placed on my everyday life. This fact alone should have really drilled it into my head that these students were not exactly models of excellence, but with all due respect to the authority figures I’ve been subjected to, the attitudes and actions of the students I worked with, at the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, did a fantastic job of proving that connotation untrue! Although the students may come from less privileged homes than I, or have been given far less academic opportunities than I have had the chance to receive, it was obvious to me that they each still contained within themselves that burning eagerness to learn how to channel their passions into action! I could tell just by the way they were speaking and the answers they gave that they had seen things in their own community, things they knew where not right and needed to be fixed. Likewise their speech also indicated their ability to recognize proper role models and place a certain importance on leadership roles held by their elders in both the surrounding community and all around the nation. Even though I am now, and for much of my academic career always have been, considered a student leader, I would never have been able to define leadership or articulate my goals the way these students did. I was very impressed by their attitude and participation throughout the entire workshop!
I harbor the same feelings of admiration and respect for the faculty and staff of the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, in a slightly different light, but to a high degree all the same! After finishing our workshops with the students we were brought to a small auditorium for a sort of debrief session. This allowed us to learn more about the school we had just served in as well as cultivate a better understanding for its mission statement and how that mission is being achieved. Some of the staff members informed us on the general statistics of the school population as well as what a typical day is for the students and staff alike. We learned of the procedures and interactions that occur within the school and once prompted we learned a little more about the parental and community influence on the school as well. Every piece of information was interesting to me, but even more intriguing was the passionate way in which these adults shared their side of the Jalen Rose story. These individuals were giving their time and energy every day to the school and all it stood for. They work constantly to move the institution and all it encompasses forward, exposure to passionate people like that is not something you can walk away from unaffected. It was especially refreshing to see the real world change that cam come from active passion being produced in Detroit, it was, to me, a sign that there still exist people who have a hopeful vision for the future and are willing to put in the work it takes to get there. Leaders such as these are a much more valuable asset to Detroit than music artist Eminem or the Tigers baseball team will ever be.
To add to the overwhelmingly eye-opening interactions I was blessed to make with some of the residents of the area, I also was astounded by the amazing physical features tucked away in the city, and by tucked I mean jutting into the streets and reaching for the sky! Not a trace of Comerica Park graced my line of vision the entire time I was in the city, but this did not and still does not bother me one bit. I am well aware that Comerica Park is one of the better known facets of Detroit, it is one of the only things I hear about whenever Detroit is a topic of discussion, but as I mentioned before, our cohort was given the chance to attend the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum, and I feel it has so much more to offer any visitor than the local baseball stadium. I wish places such as the DIA would receive more attention than the baseball stadium, they always seem to hold a permanent residence behind the scenes of great cities like Detroit because I had never heard of it before this trip and without this opportunity from the CMU Leadership Institute certainly never would, much less have the chance of enjoying all its wonder.
Another amazing building I was privileged to be introduced to is the Detroit Hostel. It is a building in a small neighborhood that serves as a sort of home away from home for travelers. Hostels are much like hotels/motels in the sense that they offer travelers a place to spend the night and bathroom facilities for a short period of time. On the other hand hostels also offer a more homely neighborhood aspect that franchise hotels cannot give travelers because the hostels serve as a great resource for patrons to find local volunteer work to fill their down time between travels. I thought the hostel building in Detroit was especially cool looking and I enjoyed that it was located in a rather small neighborhood off of the main roads, quiet enough to offer peace, yet close enough for easy extension of proper volunteer power to any of the surrounding houses or businesses that need it.
My trip to Detroit was quite a thought provoking and mind altering experience. I could not be more grateful to have had the opportunity not only to visit the city, but really immerse myself in it through personal interactions and physical service. Even more than that I am extremely thankful to have gone with the companions that I did, to many of them Detroit is home and I know that without them I never would have been able to navigate away from the over-rated assets of the city and into the truly enriching portion that lies just behind the scenes.