Detroit 2014

Return from White Flight

The Challenge

It sounded like firecrackers. When I woke up it was still dark outside, but there was flickering light coming in one bedroom window. I jumped out of bed in my flowered nightgown and ran to the window to see. The fire from the neighbor's house and the gunfire was other-worldly. It still feels dreamy in my memory. I had just turned 7 years old.  My mom came charging upstairs, yanked me away from the window and told me to get down on the floor.  She woke up the boys and frantically rushed her sleepy brood of five downstairs and outside.  Carrying my baby sister, she herded us all in our nightclothes into the car where my dad was sitting with some bags he had packed from the house. He had a cut on his head. (I later learned he chased somebody who started the fire next door.) We stayed at my grandmother's house in Birmingham that night, piled like puppies in her guest room. We were divided up among relatives for the next several weeks that summer of 1967 while my parents disappeared. When they finally returned, they drove us to an old barn of a house in Birmingham, Michigan. Our new home.  From the safety of that suburb, I grew up with my eye on Detroit from a distance.

When I was older, I learned that the National Guard and the United States Army were dispatched in Detroit during the riots.  43 people died during the uprising.  Nearly 1,200 were injured, and over 7,000 people were arrested.  More than 2,000 buildings were destroyed and looted, including the S&H Green Stamps at the corner of my street. Countless homes were robbed and torched, including Mr. and Mrs. Schreiber's house next door.  I was part of what is known as the "White Flight" out of the city.  Approximately 215,000 people -- most white -- fled Detroit between 1966 and 1969.  The bleed continues incrementally to this day.  Detroit's population is down to just over 650,000 now from a city that once buzzed with 1.8 million folks.

Long Awaited Change

May 21, 2014 - There has been no flickering flames or gunfire out my bedroom window now for 47 years.  My own three children are part of the "Flying Millennials" generation, as I like to call them, and are grown and gone now.  Detroit is in full-blown bankruptcy. I wake up at at 6:30, make the coffee, let the cat in and the dog out.  The morning news gets turned on somewhere in my morning ritual, with its blah, blah weather, blah, blah, traffic, blah, blah, events....  

....I come to a complete halt when I hear the anchorman say "JP Morgan Chase Bank will announce today that it will invest $100 million in Detroit over the next five years."  WHAT?  

From conversations with my contemporaries later that day, it was clear that few truly understood the gravity of this proclamation.  Daddy Warbucks Chase does not GIVE money away, or take unnecessary risks, or invest in things it HOPES will supply a return.  This is not charity.  This is no gamble.  This was the nation's biggest, bad-ass lender coming in and putting $100 million down on what they must KNOW is a sound investment. Lending weight to Daddy Chase's actions, the world renowned Titan of Finance and Wizard of Due Diligence, Sir Warren Buffet visited Detroit this spring of 2014 twice now, and publicly states that Detroit is a good investment.  Shazam!

It has taken two generations to bring this amazing news about Detroit.  I think about what has had to transpire over the years to get to this point.  The Herculean efforts made by those residents who have stuck it out, by churches and charitable organizations who have so generously provided for those in need in the city, by investors, by organizations who have time-and-again tried to resurrect Detroit to its former glory, by those in positions of power - both in the past (not you, Kwame) and recently, are finally, finally paying off.

The crime, blight, political corruption and apathy still exists, but it is being broomed out of the dark corners and soundly exterminated by programs, power tools and people who are taking back the city. Detroit is on a mission to return to us.  If you have visited the city recently, perhaps you comprehend what this all means.  But for this little girl in a flowered nightgown who had to leave her childhood world behind almost 50 years ago in the middle of a scary night, there are few words to convey the feeling.

Still sporting bruises and scars of a world of bad times, Detroit has a pulse that crescendos with every passing month in Midtown and Corktown, and is spreading as the Land Bank is selling foreclosed Detroit homes to newcomers.  It also cannot be understated that the "Flying Millennials" have arrived in droves.  A generation of dreamers and doers, they are a force to be reckoned with and will not be denied.  They are setting up their homes and hanging their shingles.  They are innovating, creating, biking, building, caring, loving and reviving the ancient grandeur and ruins of this great city.  I am so blessed that I am involved in this true renovation of a glorious giant.  You can feel it.  Detroit is back.