During lunch with ten or so co-workers who live across the state of Michigan, the topic of Detroit came up. Unfortunately, it came up because of a news story about a mugging in the city. The group continued to discuss the crime in the city until one person turned to me, the only person at the table who lives in Detroit. She asked, “Claire, why don’t you tell us about some of the good things happening in Detroit?”
There are situations in my life where I am confident and outspoken, but as a newer member of my team, my professional life generally isn’t one of them. I tend to be a little more reserved at work, spending much more time listening than talking. I’d really like to say that this was the moment when I broke out of my work shell and listed all the organizations doing incredible work in the city. I wish I would’ve talked about other fellows, who spend their entire work weeks grappling with the issues that the city faces even before Challenge Friday arrives, when our cohort tackles a whole new set of obstacles.
I could have mentioned the block club meeting that I attended back during the MACC Development challenge. There, the neighbors discussed the results of a resident poll that listed crime and safety as their number one concern for their neighborhood. At that meeting, it struck me that some of these residents had lived in the same houses for 40+ years; they are not fleeing for fear of crime, but rather continuing to include it in their community dialogues and to mobilize against it.
However, I mentioned none of these things. I honestly was caught off guard and froze, eventually mumbling something about how there were too many to list. While this was a true statement, it was not the response the question deserved and it certainly didn’t have an impact. The conversation turned back to crime and eventually on to the pros and cons of Apple TV.
The moment was a microcosm of my relationship with “the Detroit narrative.” On a small scale, this juncture was a missed opportunity to share a handful of anecdotes about Detroit with ten people who otherwise wouldn’t hear them. They might’ve even shared them with another person in their respective Michigan cities, and the positive narrative would spread. But on a larger scale, it points to a tension with which I’ve struggled for the past eight months, which is whether I am actually contributing to Detroit’s story in a meaningful way. I spend far less time engaged in the issues of Detroit than others. There are neighborhoods I still haven’t visited. For these reasons, I sometimes fear that my perspective isn’t an authentic representation of Detroit, and I hesitate to share it.
My colleague was only asking me to share in that instance, but it made me wonder why I don’t more regularly tell my coworkers and others about some of the good things happening in Detroit without being prompted. As someone who overthinks and undershares, I have set a personal goal to be less intimidated by the weight of “the Detroit narrative,” and to take pride in the one I experience and relay. It’s definitely not all-encompassing or even unbiased. But I realized that if I am going to celebrate the other hundreds of thousands of Detroit narratives as pieces of a whole, then I also have to think of my own in the same way.