On February 10th, my Leader Advancement Scholarship Cohort and I, headed out of Mt. Pleasant and into the city of Detroit, Michigan for an intense and quick service trip. We took time to bond as a cohort and grow individually in knowledge, experience and understanding. While, on this trip we made multiple stops to serve the community- Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, Quicken Loans, Detroit Institute of Arts, the DNR outdoor adventure center and the CASS Community Center.
At JRLA, our students took the opportunity to assist the students of JRLA in effectively facilitating team initiatives, the student were given opportunities to take the lead, share their opinions and show interest in conversation.
While at Quicken Loans, we were given a tour of the facility, fed amazing pizza and inspired by the employees of Quicken by the sharing of the company’s ‘why’ statement and what they do for the City of Detroit. Their facilities were very bold and different from any normal “professional” institute. They want their employees to enjoy what they are doing and you could see that in what they do. In order to have a little more exposure to the city and it’s secret treasures, we were taken to the Detroit Institute of Arts and given time to experience the art displayed for about an hour. The DIA provided me with one of my favorite experiences while in Detroit that I will address later on. Once our time was over at the DIA, our group was taken to the DNR Center where we would spend the night, while there, Linda Walters was kind enough to share the story of the facility and the impact they hope to have on the image of Detroit. The following morning we piled into the bus and ended up at the CASS Community Center where we would spend the early hours volunteering in four different areas of service, I personally spent my morning in the kitchen preparing the day’s food.
Even though the entire weekend was life altering, there were two places at which I was influenced the most- Jalen Rose Leadership Academy and the Detroit Institute of Arts. My personal experience at these two places was so different than what I was expecting and I truly believe that I grew the most because of these experiences.
Going into Jalen Rose, I had expected to go into a school where the facilities would be below average, faculty would be disrespectful and the students would be unwilling to participate. Let me tell you, when I walked into JRLA and was greeted with smiles and open arms by students and faculty and saw how clean and cared for the building
was, I knew that what I had previously assumed was wrong. The JRLA students seemed like they were coming into the day’s activities with hesitation and curiosity- they were very standoffish and unengaged in our conversations but after a very short amount of time their attitudes changed and they started to show their true colors. The students grew tremendously in only 2 short hours and I felt so privileged to be able to be a part of their growth. One student in particular came into the day only seeing it as an “easy ‘A'” but by the end of our time with them, this individual took an opportunity to facilitate an activity, take the lead as a participant in an initiative and lead a discussion with the entire group. It was amazing to see how much the students knew about leadership that I had learned even though they came from entirely different parts of the state than I had.
The stop at the Detroit Institute of Arts was initially time for us to appreciate art with members of our cohort, but I took the time to do some self reflection on our activities from the day. I spent the hour walking around the entire institute stopping only at sights that pulled my attention. At one of my stops within the DIA, I came across a chandelier that I found absolutely fascinating, it was put in very unique lighting and was painted in an ombre of black to white from
the bottom up. In the room where this piece of art hung, was a bench so I sat in it and just stared, while staring I thought to myself “I wonder how cool this would look from underneath” so I stood under it but it wasn’t as interesting so out of an impulsive decision, I lied down on the floor directly below the piece and life almost hit me right in the face. Suddenly, I was interrupted by a voice asking what I was doing on the floor, and when I looked, I saw a security man standing near the bench in the room so I told him how I ended up there and what did he do? This man, who I have never met before and was on duty lies down on the ground beside me not expecting any sort of conversation or judgement from me only to see the piece the way that I was. We lay there for a short amount of time and exchanged no other
words, but for whatever reason this moment made me realize the value of putting yourself in a situation that allows you to see things in an alternative perspective. A short time later I was given the opportunity, to see the love that community members have for their city. I went walking down the main hallway of the DIA when a man sitting at the help desk asked if I needed directions to anywhere within the building and instead of saying no and walking away, there was something in the back of my mind that told me to stay at the desk with this man. I only stood by the desk for a few short moments but while I was there I learned that this man volunteers at the DIA nearly every week, is part of the movement to save Detroit and has an enormous amount of pride in his community and cares for everyone that he meets. I saw so much leadership in this man he truly loves Detroit and I was able to see and feel his passion in our short conversation, he inspired me to stick to the things that I feel passionate about and to love unconditionally. Because of the security guard and the volunteer that I met, I absolutely loved and cherish my time at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
After spending time in a city that I thought I had previously been exposed to, a lot of self-reflection and analysis, I have come to realize that there was so much that I have almost turned a blind eye to. From my experiences on this trip I have decided to do three things:
- Take time to find the hidden treasures
Traveling around Detroit, there were so many small hidden treasures as I like to call them, or places that aren’t very known but so very impactful. I truly believe that the discovery of the hidden treasures could be the spark that is needed to encourage people to experience Detroit and say nice things about a city that is so beautiful. In finding these treasures and recognizing their value, I can then share my experiences with others around me and provide an opportunity for them to also spread the word about the reconstruction of Detroit.
- Devote time to experiencing the culture of Detroit
I thought I knew a lot about the city of Detroit and the history of those living in the
borders but I was wrong, there is so much that I don’t know and want to learn. Detroit has been a city of
diversity, acceptance and growth for so long and being a Michigander, I feel like I should know more things about the city that so many people around the world only think negatively about. Being from near the Flint area, I have devoted a lot of time to appreciating the city and showing others how safe it really is but at the same time, I still feared Detroit. What people don’t realize is that those living in Detroit didn’t chose the life that they are living, history has put them there and I plan on educating others on just that. Detroit is a safe place and the people living there want others to recognize their history and everything that the community stands for and I want to be a part of that. I want future Michigan generations to be proud of Detroit and not ashamed of this city that is “so bad” because it is coming back stronger than ever and I am going to do as much as I can to help rebuild the city that once had such a positive impact on the status of Michigan as a whole.
- Ask people about their passions/story
In volunteering, facilitating and sight-seeing I found myself talking about people and where they came from so much more than usual and it was a beautiful thing. I gained so much insight and knowledge and I want to continue to live my life doing just that. I truly believe that if you spark conversation with someone on something that they love, you will be able to see who they truly are and during our trip to Detroit, I felt I bonded with my cohort on a much deeper level by asking one simple question, “What are you passionate about?” I realize that I live my life through not only my own passions but others’ as well, hearing people talk so intentionally about the things that they love, their community, career, family, hobby, passion, everything that they truly care about is mind boggling. You may think that I am talking about everyday people who live in Detroit, or maybe the wealthy, but I am talking about all members of the metro Detroit area, the young, old, wealthy, poor, everyone. Everyone has a story that plays a vital role in this world solely because of the fact that they are alive, but everyone belongs in this world and to acknowledge how all of the pieces fit together even though they are all so different is a beautiful thing.
My experience in Detroit on this trip was something so unique to me that when I try to explain the rush of emotions I felt on the ride home, many do not understand and cannot grasp what I am trying to say. I am so grateful to have taken this adventure into Detroit and I look forward to fulfilling my now what and aiding the process of rebuilding the beautiful city that I now know and love.