Generating ideas, connections, and action

Reflections From The Field: On Detroit

Creating Space XII took place not so long ago and it was an opportunity to learn about what it means to develop non-traditional leadership. CSXII brought together a diverse group of leaders. Interestingly enough, so many present did not consider themselves leaders, they simply saw themselves doing the work.

One of the most impactful parts of Creating Space XII for me was going to the field to understand how art and culture was transforming communities. Right away from the moment we landed, Detroit did not feel like other locations. We were not close to downtown, and the large structures close to our hotel felt 

empty and abandoned. We later discovered that many of the office buildings are indeed empty. Furthermore, we soon learned Detroit is not a city designed for pedestrians. Although Bella and I were more than willing to walk, there was nowhere we could walk to. The next day, as our bus drove through Detroit, I soon realized that this emptiness expands outside of the nearby area we were in and goes deep throughout the city. At some points, it felt like we were in a sea of abandoned buildings and broken structures, and yet in the midst of this there were oases where communities still stood, where people came together and the work is truly happening.

We visited Grace In Action, a church unlike any other, where art and community come together to create avenues of expression for youth. They have teamed up with The Alley Project and have transformed their neighborhood into one that allows young people to express themselves and speak up for their communities. Some have teamed up to advocate for immigrant rights, for instance. A long-time teacher and artist in Southwest Detroit, Mary Luevanos, guided our tour through murals and art installations that surrounded the community and inspired change and strength.


In contrast, downtown Detroit is being gentrified and has undergone major transformations. We kept asking why and Professor Peter Hammer presented us an answer. He analyzed the opportunities available to people living in Detroit and how race plays a part in this.  We also had residents come and speak about the water shutoffs and then a clearer picture of Detroit suddenly made sense. The systems at play are structurally racialized.


So many are working to change this and many of them were at Creating Space XII. Their strength and power came through and we will, without a doubt, continue to report on the work that continues. At the end of our time in Detroit, what inspired me most was the strength that is exhibited there and the hope that they infected me with.


For more from Creating Space check out #Creating SpaceXII on Twitter.

Photo Credits
Top To Bottom:
  1. Consuelo Martinez Twitter 
    Photograph of the group that went to learn about art and culture in Southwest Oakland.
  2. Miriam Persley
    A historic landmark lays in ruins. This train station has been bought by people with means, but he refuses to fix it. 
  3. Amanuel Melles Twitter 
    At the Alley Project. Learning from youth leaders.
  4. Miriam Persley
    The Alley Project's art.