What They Don’t Tell You About Detroit

 “Sometimes you think you know what you’re looking at, and you actually have no idea.”
-Sandra Simmons (Mama Sandra), Hush House, Detroit


I came to Detroit knowing very little about the city.

What I did know was love, and I rested in the understanding that love was enough to take me anywhere.

And what I braced for was that love had better sustain me, because, if you listened to the skeptics in my life, I was entering some kind of decomposing, crime-infested urban wasteland. Everyone knew better than I did (“you’re moving where?”) and fear was my only natural defense.

The first two years were difficult. It wasn’t easy when I was constantly bracing for conflict and looking over my shoulder for the violence around the corner.

Yet, rumor, speculation, and uninformed opinion were the actual violence.

My surrendering to them gave me a reason to remain disconnected and justified in my isolation/individualism.

What I eventually learned was many Detroit residents recognize their accountability to themselves and to their communities.


Detroit is so much more than I could have imagined

Detroiters transcend other people’s definitions of themselves.

People have chosen, with excitement, to move here. People born and raised here have chosen to stay in a place they recognize as rooted in history, grounded in relationship.

Wow! I had a lot to learn [still do]. To choose to stay, even when everyone else keeps trying to define your world. Quietly working to make a new way has been the clearest example for me of what love is.

Detroit is so much more than I could have imagined.

Its people are alive, vibrant, brilliant – including: Grace Lee Boggs, Dr. Charles Simmons, Nichole Christian, Marian Kramer and Maureen Taylor.

Dynamic: Detroit Black Food Security Network.

Unique: vocal artist Monica Blaire.

Committed: hip-hop artist Invincible.

Resilient: Yusef Shakur.

Proud: social activist Elena Herrada,

Transformative: Detroit Digital Justice Coalition.

And talented beyond limitation: Poet David Blair, his spirit is always with us.

Detroit has emerged as a city where people are re-imagining what a city means. They’re re-imagining work, and re-imagining life.

Imperfect as they know they are, they still see the possibilities, and build from a place of visionary hopefulness. They can see a better future, even if no one else can. I see it too, and it helped me come to a place where it was okay to love myself, to love where I’m from (New Jersey/New York and Puerto Rico), even if it doesn’t matter to anyone else.

It isn’t always easy, and sometimes still isn’t.

Like being in a room full of people I don’t know, who aren’t particularly in love with (or even in like with!) Detroit, and the opportunity and expectation arises for me to step up and speak about what’s happening in the city, and urge others to help support and encourage change.

In those moments, when I’m uncomfortable and vulnerable – and all I really want to do is grab a drink, talk about my outfit (which is fabulous) and remain comfortably anonymous – I’m sometimes pissed off at Detroit. Pissed for inspiring me, for making me accountable, expecting me to stand in who I am, and pushing me to be truly responsible for my words and actions, in a way I’ve never had to before. It’s challenging, hard work.

In my moments of clarity I realize, what better to be responsible for and accountable to than home? And not just this Detroit home, but all my homes and families around the world.

In a way, I am just like Detroit. Imperfect, rough, inspiring, and deeply in love. And, all that is perfect!


Photo credit: jodelli


About Adela

Adela Nieves gets a special tingly feeling when she can help folks get in touch with those shadow parts of ourselves that have been hidden away. She uses reiki, community organizing, and mixed media to coax us from our old patterns of fear and loathing to embrace our defining stories of what we know (deep down) is loveable about ourselves. We just forgot and it's magic when Adela helps us remember. Click here to read more about Adela

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3 Responses to What They Don’t Tell You About Detroit

  1. Nilda January 7, 2012 at 7:46 am #

    Detroit has a reputation that needs to be shaken up reflecting so much more than what is projected outside of Detroit and that is the people who are making a difference and a vision that keeps unfolding into a reality. It is great to hear from the inside. Nilda

  2. Lara December 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    Adela, this resonated so much with what I felt about Detroit after I visited during the USSF. I wrote this as part of my processing:

    “My week in Detroit was life-altering, heart-shattering, and healing all at the same time. I felt so much for enormously sustained periods of time I thought I’d burst into a zillion pieces. How one city can hold so much trauma and tragedy and still welcome hope and healing is amazing to behold. The media encourages us to be scared of Detroit and its citizens. Reporters call it an urban wasteland. Racists call it a jungle. It is neither. What I found was a city – struggling for sure, but rising, too. For every boarded up building, I met a person committed to change. For every corrupt politician, I met a child full of hope. Flowers do grow in Detroit. And so do ideas about sustainability, public policy, and urban renewal that renews the people, not the corporations who pay to move them somewhere else. There is so much potential in the city of Detroit, we’d all be heartless fools to turn away. I wish the country could read about THAT in our newspapers and magazines.”

    Detroit certainly needs the voices on this site, but so does every inhabitant of every city in this country. I’m so excited it’s here. You’re here.

  3. Nichole Christian December 12, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

    Bold, beautiful honesty: exactly the kind of voice Detroit needs to hear from. Thanks, Adela for sharing this.

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