Taking Charge of Those Blanket Untruths About Detroit

Since I’ve moved to Detroit some of my family members and friends are hesitant to visit me – or flat out will not visit me.

I grew up in East Dearborn. As a minority in the U.S. I never felt the part because I was surrounded with Arabs and Muslims who looked like me, spoke like me.

My father bbqing for the family, which always turned into a neighborhood event!

And nothing about my long jilbab over my sneakers seemed strange.

Specifically in East Dearborn, I could get my tires changed, pick up laundry from the launderer, visit the grocer and still hit up the mosque for a quick prayer – all within a 10 minute walk from my home.

East Dearborn is a unique city layout of urban meets suburban. Arab style.

This is all by way of saying that we lived in a safe bubble that protected us.

Sledding at our east end park, Hemlock. Living in our safe protective bubble in East Dearborn.

It allowed our parents the peace of mind to let their children play in the streets way past the blaze of the street lights signaling it was time to go back inside.

Detroit was a 10 minute drive on 94 East from Dearborn and for some of my friends a 2 block walk across Tireman.

But Detroit might as well have been one of the distant homelands ravaged with war and poverty that so many Dearborners escaped.

During these last few years I’ve found myself having to undo lots of the same negative stereotypes about Detroit that I was programmed to believe as a child – mostly through the nightly news that my father watched.

They are the same news stories – a random shooter or bank robbery, for instance – that make my parents turn to me today and ask, “Why are you still living there?”

I started to work in Detroit in 2005 as a teacher and live here now with my spouse – a long-time Detroiter, who moved here from his own little insular town.

I work for Allied Media Projects (AMP) – long-time non-profit within Detroit. Being the Program Coordinator for AMP’s Detroit Future Schools program has allowed me to interact with about 3000 Detroit students in more than 20 schools across the Metro-Detroit area – from King to Cody to East English.

Here are Detroit Minds and Hearts youth and adult allies. We’re working on community initiatives at the Elevator Building in Downtown Detroit. (I’m on the right end of the table wearing the white hajib.)

I live in Detroit. I love it.

And I see others embracing the city as well. For one, the Detroit Minds and Hearts Fellowship, a group I volunteer with, made the very pointed decision to open its youth space right in Downtown Detroit at the Elevator Building – intentionally bringing youth and adults from the Hills, Ann Arbor, Dearborn, all parts of Detroit, etc to work together.

Along with others, a significant part of my life right now is spent valuing a process of undoing blanket untruths about Detroit and its potential.

Every day I feel a sense of blessing for having the opportunity to live, work, laugh, love, exist in this world called Detroit. That feeling further propels the need I feel to shout it from the rooftops.

Detroit is the place I choose to live and work – not because I want to save it. But truly because it’s a city like the one that nourished me in my childhood and adolescence – that’s nourishing me now into my adulthood.

 

Ammerah

About Ammerah

Ammerah Saidi's life is a weave of her Muslin heritage, Detroit roots, and a commitment to guide others in their own transformation and development. Her identities as a Muslim and teacher have stirred her life with purpose and direction. Ammerah's work as an educator in under-privileged communities and volunteer as a youth and community organizer takes her from the classroom to the streets. The second of five children of Yemen immigrant parents, Ammerah's Islamic faith, Yemeni heritage, and American upbringing have shaped her perspective as a socially conscious citizen of the world.

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