I grew up in Morningside, on Detroit’s lower east side, in a house which my family still owns. As a kid my world was bike rides up to the elementary school playscape, sledding at Balduck Hill, and dog walks where we almost always passed someone we knew. I knew all things in relation to Mack and Warren Avenue and had my favorite spots for eating, shopping, and hanging out with friends throughout the neighborhood.
I moved back home to Detroit after college to begin orientation with Challenge Detroit, and in that week we participated in a bus tour with the Detroit Experience Factory, whose founder, Jeanette Pierce, grew up in Morningside just like me. Jeanette says that “Detroit is big enough to matter in the world, and small enough for you to matter in it.” I had read this statement on postcards before, but it was not until I reflected on the refreshed perspective I had on Detroit as a newly returned resident that I fully appreciated what she meant.
Our 142 square mile city, the home to almost 700,00 people, is so much bigger than my bike rides and dog walks and the east side half I knew (those who know Detroit geographically know that for an eastsider, the west may as well be another world).
I left that orientation city-wide bus tour energized to learn more, gain new perspectives, and to explore areas of the city which before had seemed far away from my lived reality. I was excited about all things new.
So needless to say, I couldn’t help but laugh when I heard our first challenge project partner was Eastside Community Network (ECN), a CDC centered on development within the lower east side, specifically along Mack Avenue. ECN’s focus was the exact area I grew up in – the area I thought I knew all about.
I was once again reminded that there is always more to learn, even in your own backyard. I left ECN kickoff day with a new perspective on Mack Ave and Morningside. In the six weeks on the project I became aware of businesses I didn’t even know were there, the ways in which Mack as a commercial corridor had so much room for growth, and the role I can play within that growth. By presentation day I had learned, questioned, and reconsidered – all in an area I was certain I knew.
As a native resident of the eastside, I carry my own local history and experience, but I am one of many in a wealth of community knowledge, wisdom, and aspiration. As I seek to further contextualize my experience growing up in Detroit within the city’s greater narrative, I realize how much more our our city has to offer – east or west, close or far, familiar or new. We are a city big enough to forever be exploring and learning and growing, and small enough for me to always have my own little place within it.