The Detroit Opportunity Project

social justice and the American Dream in Detroit, MI

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Detroit’s Moon Shot

If you take all the anxiety about the changes unfolding in Detroit, and whether they will ultimately serve a privileged few or the aspirations of all residents, it truly boils down to one central question: How will Detroit’s revitalization secure both market growth and preserve long-term affordability, equity and opportunity for all who choose to live in this city? 

In a nutshell, that’s Detroit’s moon shot.

Together, everyone I know working in Detroit is deeply engaged and committed to making Detroit a city where everyone can rise. Through years of experience and study, my sense is Detroit’s revitalization can secure the mutually desired market growth and long-term opportunity through the integration of 3 things.

First, we must harvest the accumulated knowledge of 50 years of anti-poverty programs and the “developmental science” around economic mobility: the fact that spacial integration among a range of income groups is the single most important predictor to ensuring someone that starts in the bottom 20% of has a chance to rise into the top 80% of earners. We have to emphasize programs, policies and projects that have proven results or are aligned with historical data. We have to forge strategies that promote mixed income districts, multifamily housing developments and the weaving together of different economic strata. This is not about forcing integration either, but creating attractive live and work centers where everyone that wants to be in that place has an affordable and meaningful opportunity to join in and be part of the community. 

Second, we have to accept the synthesis of structural and cultural dimensions of poverty. Poverty creates adverse environments for opportunity to flourish; adverse strategies within families and communities to realize opportunity then reinforce denigrating cycles of inter-generational disadvantage. It’s not enough for our country to let this binary debate distract from the fact that poverty begets poverty and most egregiously so in areas of concentrated disadvantage.  Instead, we must see the debate as an issue of sequencing our investments and strategies to intervene where poverty manifests and perpetuates itself across the county.

Third, and finally, connecting opportunity for all at its root demands we focus on collisions and community building.

Collision building is the logic of placemaking and economic development tools that secure vibrant mixed income and mixed use communities of choice.  Collisions are the free exchange of people, ideas and resources. Collisions happen when we forge our programs and projects across systems and with multiple partners. It’s more about ecology development than transactional programming. More about a soulful approach to our opportunity strategies than purely algebraic economic development that X dollars leads to Y Jobs. Instead, it’s the X-factor of quality changes that encourage the flow and exchange of creativity and people to naturally develop.

Community building blends the collision frame and lifts up the process and methodology we employ as we aim to transform our cities. We must be as attentive to the process and the identity features of building those ecology’s’.  

Above all else, we can’t be phony about it.  Better to be transactional sometimes than execute a fake “community muscle” as we build these places, programs and projects. This is the pornography test (we know it when we see it) of quality community and economic development that differentiates meaningful inclusion, engagement and results (not necessarily in that order or with all the same ingredients every time) and when change unfolds in an misaligned fashion.

There should be no doubt, Detroit will rise again.  These three ingredients: data integration; synthesis of structural and cultural poverty challenges; and ecology building for collisions and community to grow, can help our work meet the challenge of creating districts and cities that support market growth and long-term affordability, equity and opportunity for all here in Detroit.

The most urgent demand is that ours is an inclusive transformation. I believe, with all my heart and soul, that the folks working to make our streets more vibrant and our systems more empowering for Detroit residents carry this shared aspiration.

Although it will take more time than we’d like and will unfold imperfectly, if we commit to holding ourselves accountable to those three things, we will improve opportunity for all Detroiters. It will take patient tenacity, but our tenacity will be justly rewarded. 

Filed under UrbanOpportunity

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$980 / 574ft² - Park Shelton Studio - (Love Stories & Detroit Identity Optional)

The moment I first walked into The Park Shelton, I knew I was home. It was an emotional truth. The moment I signed my 30 year mortgage, I was actually home. It was the factual truth.

In 2006, when touring the city to buy my first home, cobbled together on a very modest nonprofit salary, my good credit, a loose mortgage market, and the $5,000 I’d saved up, even then I remember vividly my anxiety as I asked local real-estate agent, Austin Black: ‘what about gentrification?’ As we toured one of Midtown’s newest luxury lofts, he said to me, rather plainly, that Detroit could use a little.

I was 25 years old then and my requirements were simple: I didn’t want to live in a fortress and I wanted to be somewhere I felt confident would make for a good long-term investment.

A couple weeks ago, I put my humble (albeit luxuriously adorned) Park Shelton Studio up for rent and asked interested parties to, as ‘the invisible hand’ would have it, inform us what a Midtown Detroit unit like mine should go for by offering it to the highest bidder.

My prior rental strategy priced this unit at $975 per month, all utilities included. But, Detroit being a big small town, there was substantial buzz amongst my peers that I was “losing out” on untold riches (perhaps as much as $100 or more per month) because the rental market is so tight in the greater downtown, and the Park Shelton in particular is such a desirable place to live.

I decided to test the invisible hand. 

Of course, I should have expected what came next, but was still largely unprepared for the ensuing rabble on Detroit’s all caps “G” problem: not gentrification, but gross GENERALIZATIONS. Or, rather it’s the premature assignment of cause, effect and meaning of changes unfolding on the ground in Detroit.

Let’s tackle the facts: at last count, the Midtown Detroit market consists of 30% designated affordable rate housing. In the 2010 census, the district still lost population like the rest of the city while increasing the number of 20-30 years olds. It also increased the number and proportion of whites.

Well, now that’s noteworthy.

Now, this, as far as I can tell, is the actual thrust of the debate here. It’s about identity, ownership, space and development. It’s also about the local zeitgeist on how Detroit’s development patterns are yielding extraordinary investments to revitalize the greater downtown into a vibrant live and work centers and is concurrently creating this ‘tale of two cities divide’ blah blah blah….

This line of discourse eventually yields that perceived yet politically potent challenge: gentrification. On some level, this is exactly what’s happened at The Park Shelton—the building itself has undergone gentrification of a kind specific to a single development. But, I’d argue, with 30% housing stock designated low income, and the ever present rate of abandonment still pervasive in Midtown, it’s not true—gentrification is not literally true—at the district or neighborhood level. Not yet anyway.

One of our great opportunities in this town is to fight to ensure that a vibrant mixed income profile persists in Detroit’s commercial districts. We have to nurture that aspiration and work to codify it as necessary to ensure these places are accessible and offer prosperity pathways for all in Detroit. Maybe it’s for homeowners or job-seekers or students or cultural mavens, but these are the mutual channels for growth across Detroit we need to encourage and continue to build upon as the greater downtown begins to emerge from a subsidized economy to a market driven one.

Now, back to my unit. 

My sense is, if I was truly trying to see the “highest and best price,” my timing was off: the best strategy would be to wait two months for the next round of WSU students to arrive, but sacrificing two-three month’s rent just doesn’t jive in my household economy.

But, it turns out, the market is not wildly out of control.

After a week’s worth of showings (5) and bidders (4), the final price for my unit proved to be exactly market rate—again—at $980 per month.  According to Midtown Detroit’s data, the current market rate of $1.70 per square foot for ‘higher-end’ units put that price exactly on par with my square footage and the local inventory (go ahead, do the math).

Amazing, that invisible hand!

Back to that “g” problem: Gross Generalizations about Gentrification—I was surprised at the degree of controversy and anxiety my studio apartment infected across a variety of social media channels. To read the dialogue right might mean I was denying poor people the chance to “share in the revitalization” of our city.  Or worse: I was indeed intent on displacing my neighbors near and far.

My hope is, after 10 years of passionate work on community and economic development in Detroit, I have a little space here to both absorb that attack and promptly dismiss it—at least so I can help encourage this dialogue a bit further.

Now, if on my death bed, I were to tell the generations behind me that I fought valiantly to have Detroit realize an “inclusive mixed-income community!” I would expect them to be severely disappointed at the expanse of my dreams and the weight of my passion for community development and social justice.

But, all things being equal, this is the fight worth having in Detroit.

But, the thing to remember is, I’m just a humble owner of one unit. My wife and I built our life in Detroit in those 574 square feet of bliss—we had our first Christmas tree there, our first new puppy, our first Thanksgiving. I proposed on that roof-deck. A year later, we were married there and, wouldn’t you know it, spent our first night as newlyweds in that place. At our housewarming party (held on the roof-top with tours of our space during our first year) a friend said to us upon walking into the studio, “Now, this is a testament to your relationship!” And, she was right. But, three years and one wedding later, I couldn’t just let go. Plus, hey, the market tanked and I was underwater.

Now, sparing you the math, my unit has been rented virtually every day since 2009. But, even at those rental rates, the fact is, I’ve been subsidizing my renters for 5 years, having never earned more than the total cost of ownership at a cost of over $7,000. Gracefully, this year, it will change for the first time as my PMI gets removed and I officially reach 20% equity. TMI my friends, I know, but this fact is important to the whole debate: I’ve been subsidizing my renters for 56 months!

In a city of 139 square miles, who really cares about my 574 square feet?

But, in a way, my 574 square feet mean everything in this town.

The curious thing, ultimately, is that this debate we all think we’re having about gentrification isn’t reductive to an issue of race or equity though it includes those facets. No, ultimately, it’s about love. Ultimately its about the very essence of what it means at its core to be “from Detroit” and to call this town one’s own.

What does it mean to be from Detroit?

My two cents: Detroiters are fiercely in love with what this town means to them personally.

I count myself in that stock. Not much I can do about my white skin, privileged upbringing, and geographic upbringing (like they all say, you can take the boy out of Connecticut, but you can never take the Connecticut out of the boy).  Ask the right person, and I embody everything that’s at risk in Detroit’s transformation story. But, you know, none of that “transformation work” is about changing Detroit’s soul. Zero.

Allow me to be blunt, (if not a little harsh to my DC friends) but in my mind, Detroit saved me from a life of fickle meaninglessness. Rather than days filled with paper pushing across DC’s hallowed out halls, I work on issues and projects I’m passionate about alongside people and a community I adore and treasure. Instead of being stuck in soul-crushing commutes and even worse cocktail hours, I’m here with you fine people, drinking life and our own brand of crazy Detroit shit right up.

I know my love story: some days its 574 square feet, but most days? Most days, my love runs 139 sq. miles deep.

There are lots of different versions of the truth: technical truths, emotional ones, philosophical, biological, and existential.

Knowing Detroit is my home is a priceless truth to me.

It’s the truth no matter where I am.

I hope, as we change and grow in Detroit, we’ll embrace the fight worth having while we’re here. Trust me, we can nurture the community we all aspire to live in. The city we fell in love with.

I was glad today to hand the keys to a new tenant of my Park Shelton Studio. Welcome home, highest bidder. Welcome home, in Detroit. We’re so glad you’re here.

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dayries asked: I found this to be really helpful to me in my community analysis paper that I am currently doing. I live on the "Detroit" side of Mack and it is almost like how you described Alter rd. What information could you give me that would answer this statement "Analyze the implications of the changes in your community of origin (Morningside). Give special concern how these changes may have impacted diverse populations and populations-at-risk

I’d encourage you to assess the word “implications” more closely.  Community depreciation, in terms of economic assets and human capital often results in a pattern of exacerbated risk for diverse communities and high risk populations.  That is, such populations have significant opportunity challenges from the outset — Frequently, lower educational attainment in the home, lower income, less access to networks for jobs and on and on.  Community change that results in more blight, lower property values etc also then magnifies these challenges and has a pattern of making them transferable across generations.  It’s called concentrated poverty.

Alternatively, positive changes in a community led to different “implications” for these populations.

Finally, reflect on what’s causal vs correlation.  These are important distinctions. And, be clear on patterns vs. categorical assumptions about how individuals will respond in a particular setting vs. how they tend to perform in the aggregate. 

Good luck!

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My Detroit…From Ideals to Action

My Detroit is full of possibility…


My Detroit is our Detroit, a place where everyone has access to the opportunity to fulfill his or her dreams. My Detroit is home to intercultural community across race, class, and creed. My Detroit is a place where we share a faith in our city as much as we do in each other.

My Detroit is profoundly inspiring, relentlessly challenging and purely authentic.

That’s my Detroit.

That’s our Detroit.

Many out there don’t believe it, but it’s pretty easy to get romanced by this town. Perhaps it’s the odds stacked against us, but the band of entrepreneurs and innovators in our midst makes this place one where the joy of building and doing far exceeds the blind ambitious climb.

Perhaps it’s because we feel like there’s room here for all of us to thrive; that we’re in this together; that in Detroit our talent can be tested and our resolve affirmed.

I’ve felt this way since my first days in this town and the sentiments deepen with every year and every new person I am fortunate enough to meet and call my neighbor, my friend and my respected colleague. I’ve written about it near and far, directed to my millennial peers and my regional neighbors too

But, there’s been something wanting still.

Not the least of our worries is the fact that Detroit city government is nearly broke if not completely broken.  Just look at these Free Press Headlines: State Gives Detroit An UltimatumIn Detroit, There’s No Escape from Hard Choices.  

The bottom line is Detroit needs extraordinary leadership at every level of the city. We must move from rosy platitudes to action. The time is now.

In my experience, young professionals all across Detroit are beginning to appreciate that our principles and our idealism must take the next leap forward towards full engagement. We must put our money, time, and talent towards the raw choices of better leaders over better slogans. We must get to the granular process of influencing change by mobilizing, investing, and voicing our support.

We have to understand that we can’t, and we won’t, #hashtag our way to Detroit’s revitalization.

That’s not necessarily a preferred recipe for a generation best known for “keeping our options open.” And then there’s the essential truth—nothing changes fast enough, authentically enough, or principally enough.

Such idealism though can handcuff meaningful political action for many young professionals.

Because here’s the deeper truth: nothing ever will.

My hunch though is that we’ll increasingly move towards actions that can foster better results for our city. We’ll rise to the challenge. We’ll come to understand that if we lead our lives with integrity, purpose and respect for others, then our actions and our best bets that commit us to the slog of making a difference at a systemic level will also be respected.

So, I’m taking that risk myself and I’m betting my friends will too.

If there’s something I’ve learned about candidates for office, it’s this: it’s not their positions or their charisma that should really move you. It’s not who you want to have a beer with. What matters is which of these people knows how to best solve problems?

Can they negotiate? Do they build relationships? Do the create opportunities? Are they creative? Do they communicate clearly? Are they mission, goal and outcome focused? Can they get past their preferences for the general good? Do they put community first? Can they secure results?

And this is what I am most hungry for in this city: urgently executed constructive problem solving.

I want our city government to have a relentless focus on the fundamentals of city services; a civic and respectful dialogue between Detroit and its residents, its organizations and its surrounding neighbors; leadership with fundamental vision but flexible ways of achieving their aims; Inclusive leaders that abides by all of Detroit’s constituents over elite enclaves.

I know this is some of the least sexy stuff anyone can ask for. But also, I believe, these are some of the most important qualities we need.

This is why I’m choosing now, almost a full year before Detroit’s general election for Mayor in 2013, to support the candidacy of Mike Duggan. Mike’s gruff, roll-up-you-sleaves, get-err-done disposition makes him the right candidate for the moment at hand. He’s a straight shooter that speaks clearly and directly about what he believes.

When you get the chance to hear Mike out after meeting him for the first time, you come away confident in his convictions, and in his commitment to turning Detroit around.

Although I don’t know Mike Duggan too well and wasn’t asked to write this post, here’s what I’ve come to learn about Mike over a handful of exchanges.

First, I appreciate how Mike thinks, I admire his track record of results, and I respect the company he keeps in the early mechanisms of his exploratory campaign efforts.

Mike tells the truth as he sees it. He has deep passion for the city of Detroit, and has a proven record of retaining Detroit’s assets through tremendous negotiation skills and obvious creativity. He’s shown grit. He’s shown dedication. He has a clear grasp on how to turn things around like he did for the DMC. He knows how to cultivate teams and how to attract talent to his endeavors.

These are good, solid qualities. They’re not flashy. Sometimes, his relentlessness towards results can rub people the wrong way.  But, imperfect as they are, these are the foundation of my support for Mike Duggan’s candidacy for Mayor.

Does that mean Mike is the only leader Detroit needs?

Absolutely not. 

Again, Detroit needs leadership at every level. But at the highest levels we need a steward with proven capabilities at solving problems, seeing through a crisis, and turning around severely challenged situations.

Will Mike Duggan transform Detroit in 4 years? No, I don’t think that’s a reasonable expectation. But can he set the foundation? Yes. Can he build trust and confidence across diverse communities and sectors? I believe he can. Time will tell. Does he have a relentless focus on results? I believe he does.

You know, I spent over an hour this week in city hall filling two sheets of paper with all the necessary materials and with only three people in line. It took an hour for me to achieve this minor administrative task. I texted my wife: “I’m going to die from impatience at City Hall.”

I’m not an impatient man.

But, I think Mike Duggan is. And, I believe its time we got impatient with results in this town. I believe it’s time we got serious about the leadership qualities we seek to solve our challenges instead of superficial ones.

As a white guy supporting a white guy for Mayor, it’s important to insist that the racial divides that persist in this town must continue to be addressed with our policy and investment choices. Indeed, we must consciously work to foster harmony and understand the commonality we all hold in the pursuit of a better city. Above all else, we must elect the best leaders we can for Detroit. Leadership doesn’t come in a color, but in Detroit, lets be upfront that race is an important dimension to our past, present and future efforts to build a great city for all Detroiters.

Ultimately, I support Mike Duggan because I believe he will be the most effective at stewarding teams of highly talented, passionate and committed people to help solve the issues that will have the most meaningful results for Detroiters. If he’s Mayor, I believe a strong foundation will be finally set to propel this extraordinary place towards a great future.

My Detroit?

My Detroit is about taking chances. My Detroit has big town amenities with small town intimacy. My Detroit is a place where we all must decide how we will lead and how we will see through the essential changes so critical to Detroit’s future.

I ask you, What’s your Detroit?

What kind of leadership do you seek?

If you’re ready to act, then please join us at Prive Lounge Detroit Thursday night to declare your support for Detroit and to see why you should support Mike Duggan too.

The time to move from our ideals to action is now.

Please Register for the My Detroit December 6th Young Professionals Event now to see why.

In Service,


Filed under Detroit Mike Duggan Mayoral Campaign Local Politics Millennials

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Happy Interdependence Day

This week, all across the land, most of us will take in our nation’s Independence Day celebration with palpable American exuberance.

Scenes of Americana will unfold as parades pass by and friends and neighbors come together to snag a couple cold ones, snare down some lawn games, and snap up some back-yard barbecue. From sparklers to grand finales, at carnivals and lake-side vistas, we’ll cap off the celebration with showers of red, white and blue flames all while Jack and Diane plays melodically into the night, reverberating deep inside our nation’s soul.

This, perhaps despite ourselves, is who we are: Americans.

Home of the brave, the proud, and the chosen; to be an American is synonymous with The Dream. Almost reflexively, we hold these truths: America—our nation—offers us lush pastures, limitless opportunities and the fundamental freedoms our forefathers risked their lives, and history, to secure.

Perhaps the singular achievement of the American experiment (and its greatest risk), is the ways in which the vast majority of us take for granted our freedom from want. Our general security blinds us to the harsh reality that The Dream remains elusive to generations of children born on the wrong side of the tracks, where geography, more than individual will or choice, is destiny.

This fact of unequal opportunity and, moreover, what appears to be a fading faith in the promise of a better future for the next generation demands that our nation consider anew what muster we still have in order to fulfill our fundamental promise?

But don’t just take my word for it.

We’re seeing a sea-change in how we discern opportunity in this country and what “The American Dream” actually means. Just last week, Time Magazine’s cover story proclaimed, “The perennial conviction that those who work hard and play by the rules will be rewarded with a more comfortable present and a stronger future for their children faces assault from just about every direction.”

And Gallup, the national standard for aggregating America’s pulse found this June that:

Nearly six in 10 Americans are currently dissatisfied with the opportunity for the next generation of Americans to live better than their parents. The idea of America as a place where citizens can rise above their economic position at birth depends partly on an economic system that rewards people based on effort and merit — not race, class, title, or other social barriers — and partly on Americans’ willingness to make a serious effort to succeed. Americans themselves currently have doubts about both aspects of that equation.

Gallup Polling

Before we wax nostalgic or turn a blind eye, bear in mind this week that the core tenets of the nation are wobbling. And, lest we forget, nowhere is this more true than in Detroit. Detroit, despite all its promise and passion remains a city where an astonishing 44% of our residents live below the poverty line, 18% are jobless, and countless more wrestle in inadequate schools and deplorable social conditions that make the prospect for a brighter future undeniably dimmed. These existential threats engulf our  most disadvantaged youth all across the city; no doubt these kids have dreams, but who can blame them for thinking The Dream isn’t for them?

Personally, in the context of a Presidential election that promises to be a debate about the nature of opportunity and the state of The Dream across this land, I believe it’s time we brought this debate to Detroit.

We deserve to ask these candidates to square their policy platforms and rhetoric against the hard facts of inequality and unequal opportunity across Detroit’s diverse neighborhoods—from blue collar cul-de-sacs to deep poverty zones filled with blight and despair. I even (of course) created a petition to implore our candidates to come to Detroit to debate “American Opportunity” at Detroit’s most poetic (albeit less notorious) divide: Alter Road. 

Yes, this week, we should celebrate our nation’s independence. But, let’s do so not because we’re free from want ourselves, or merely because we love the pageantry of it all. No, let’s celebrate our independence because we’re free to act. This is democracy’s great gift and highest demand—the independence to think, believe, and, yes, even vote and mobilize on behalf of our convictions and community standards.

As democratic citizens, it’s high time we reinvigorated our demands that equal opportunity be put back at the center of our national agenda. Consider it a pledge to our national interdependence. Much as the TIME article concluded, “we are the only ones who can create a climate for the American Dream to survive another generation, then another and another.” 

Indeed. Yet we should add that until all Americans truly have an equal shot at The Dream, from sea to shining sea, then our nation’s Independence Day will remain, to me at least, an incomplete celebration.

Filed under July 4th Detroit Equal Opportunity American Dream Time Magazine Gallup

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Reveal Your Detroit

It was my third day on the job, unclear and uncertain how to effectively “link the DIA to local community and economic development” when I discovered that Detroit Revealed: Photographs 2000-2010 was on the books from October 2011 - April 2012.

What a gift.

It was almost immediate — I designed a quick concept sketch on how to engage local community based organizations to offer a creative response to this exhibition. Over time, through the collaboration of the museum and the Knight Foundation, we designed a community photography project that empowered residents and local organizations to access the museum and execute their own engagement goals in new ways. 

On the cusp of a grant to support the project and the leap of faith that the DIA was willing to take to make this project a reality, I wrote these words in October.


Detroit is in the eye of its beholders.

Home to countless identities, narratives and perspectives, to claim Detroit is to claim oneself in this sea of diverse possibility.

How then has Detroit achieved the profound distinction as the epitome of American decay and unrelenting collapse, failure, and ruin?

Such narrative begs the question: is this the image Detroit residents carry about their city?

For some perhaps, but certainly not for most. 

Detroit is a complex entity. To see Detroit through its citizens’ eyes is to see Detroit’s kaleidoscopic reality in powerful, even beautiful ways. Whether a city or regional resident, this truth emerges everywhere one dares to ask.

Detroit’s narrative is central to our local identity. Detroit’s ruin narrative too quickly overshadows the importance of empowering residents to own their own story. For the narrative to truly shift, we must conscientiously solicit the voice of Detroit residents who are fully capable of imagining Detroit’s next transformative era through their own unique experiences and perspectives.

In part, we must slow down the imagery and focus on particulars. To discern the contours of the whole, sometimes we must expose the minute details.

Indeed, words allow one conversation about Detroit. Images allow another.

If a picture is worth a 1,000 words, then we should do our utmost to capture as many as possible. In Detroit, with the DIA’s support, this is our chance to empower local residents and give them voice. We can learn together by what we share and how we each carry this city in our minds eye. Let’s give residents that chance to be the artists and trust them to show us what they find beautiful. Let’s let residents Reveal Detroit for themselves and give them a forum to display their images for all to see.

I truly believed this was a critical opportunity not to be missed.

With the generous grant from the Knight Foundation, we were able to connect with over 50 community groups, 750 residents, and our social media channels as well.

All told, over 12,000 images were produced by Detroiters about the city they love.

Honestly, I’ll never look at Detroit the same way again. Over 2,000 images comprise the Reveal Your Detroit display at the Detroit Public Library. It is an unabashedly local and undeniably beautiful compilation. Indeed, it is a digital photography display like no other I’ve ever seen.

I’m biased sure. I’m proud too of course. But, above all, I’m overwhelmed and humbled by the response.

Detroit is passion personified in every person that takes part and believes in this place; whether born here or not, this is our common bond.

My photographs? My Detroit? Very similar to everyone else — some intimate shots of my home and the places in this city that give my time her identity, texture and purpose.

These images make me feel connected to this place, and truly remind me of what I love about Detroit.  

Of course, mine are far from flawless; indeed, most were. But the point wasn’t technically perfect images. The point was to uncover images that are meaningful because they honor ourselves and reveal personal perspectives on our common canvass — the city.

So, I hope you can come today between 3-6pm at the Detroit Public Library. And, if not, sometime before August 15th. Come see how residents responded to the DIA’s invitation to creatively respond to a local exhibition. And, if you took part or didn’t, still ask yourself: how would you Reveal Your Detroit?

Hope to see you there!

Reveal Your Detroit

Filed under Detroit Institute of Arts DIA Detroit Revitalization Fellows Community Photography Detroit Arts Community Engagement

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In Detroit’s Financial Crisis, Don’t Ignore City’s Racial Tensions

My Guest Commentary, care of The Detroit Free Press:


Published April 2, 2012


“This is white supremacy and we will fight you. Before we let you take over our city, we will burn it down.” — Minister Malik Shabazz

Consider those the scariest words I’ve heard in a long time.

The worst case scenario would be the eruption of violence baked by the hot air between the supposed leadership guiding Detroit through its fiscal mess. As a Detroiter, it pains me to see this fiasco unravel into such heightened tensions.

In this financial crisis, race relations are the elephant in the room that no one seems to be actively stepping forward to address with the sober seriousness it deserves. The absence of leadership on this front from our mayor, city council, the governor, local pastors and the media is deeply troubling. It must change immediately.

With the Trayvon Martin tragedy seeping through the nation’s collective consciousness, race is again center stage in America. And, it’s not hard to see the essential truth, how in the case of a killing of a young black man wearing a hoodie, that what is legal isn’t always just.

This begs the question in Detroit: although legal, is an emergency financial manager just? Angry factions of residents across Detroit think not.

Personally, I’m ambivalent.

Bankruptcy that maintains local control simply lets pride foreclose on pragmatism. An emergency financial manager yields efficiency to the blunt hostility of a “foreign takeover”. Ultimately, I expect a consent agreement for this option will allow the negotiated players do that rather feckless thing known as saving face.

This, I suppose, is the successive consequence of generations of heightened expectations and dismal returns, but it’s yet another example of Detroit’s penchant for a bunker strategy over principled leadership. It allows political self-preservation, institutional self-interest and inter-governmental posturing to trump the real leadership needed in a town desperate for some.

In the meantime, angry residents demand justice. In the meantime, some call for civil disobedience. In the meantime, some threaten to burn Detroit to the ground.

Does anyone else wonder when Detroit will get out of the bunker to stop managing decline, emphasizing division and carping about control and start facilitating the essential, but profoundly difficult choices ahead?

Our leaders tell us constantly, “My hands are tied.” In Detroit, our public servants are generally good people stuck in thankless jobs. But, for a moment, I’d like to ask all of them to take seriously the threat of backtracking this city right into 1967.

Our leaders should assume the responsibility they have to quell the race narrative engulfing the financial crisis that is seeping its way through the streets of Detroit.

Because the more time they spend raising their voices for the evening news instead of guiding residents through this extraordinarily difficult process, the more fearful I get that our racial divisions may erupt; such a tragedy would surely mask the real roots of the problem at hand and, ultimately, crush the city’s soul once more.

To all of Detroit’s public servants — from city council to the governor’s office — please, don’t let that happen on your watch.

Bradford Frost is a member of the Detroit Revitalization Fellows at Wayne State University.

Filed under race relations Trayvon Martin detroit free press Mayor Bing Governor Snyder

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Narrowing the New Class Divide

Sound Ideas from Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute, and author of the provocative new book, Coming Apart. I especially like this one: 

Finally, we should prick the B.A. bubble. The bachelor’s degree has become a driver of class divisions at the same moment in history when it has become educationally meaningless. We don’t need legislation to fix this problem, just an energetic public interest law firm that challenges the constitutionality of the degree as a job requirement.

After all, the Supreme Court long ago ruled that employers could not use scores on standardized tests to choose among job applicants without demonstrating a tight link between the test and actual job requirements. It can be no more constitutional for an employer to require a piece of paper called a bachelor’s degree, which doesn’t even guarantee that its possessor can write a coherent paragraph.

Filed under Charles Murray coming apart Equal opportunity community problem solving American Enterprise Institute

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#MIPrimary - Sign My Nonpartisan Petition for the American Dream Debate at Alter Road this Fall

It was really impulsive, but sometimes you just have to go for it when the right idea comes to your head. The big fear in any endeavor, whether a new business, college applications, or asking out someone for dinner is rather simple: what if I fail?

And then, like all good things worth doing, we remind ourselves: what’s the worst thing that could happen? She says no. You don’t get in. It flops. If you’re still breathing afterwards, 99.99% of the time, people will say, “Hey, at least you tried. Now, dust yourself off and get back out there slugger.”

So, yeah, I started a petition. And, yeah, I’d like you to sign it, please: The American Dream Debate at Alter Road.

Seeing how the Michigan Primary is today, now is as good a time as any to announce this effort.


Because, last I checked, the American Dream is about as nonpartisan as it gets. But who runs our country, now that’s another story. Elections have a profound effect on how opportunity is framed and what policies are implemented to support the working poor, aspiring business owners and a generation of disadvantaged youth.

So please, join this effort if you believe this debate is worth having.

Decide for yourself. Click here:


Filed under MIPrimary Barack Obama mitt romney rick santorum presidential debate petition equal opportunity Alter Road