New Collar: Detroit’s Working Class Youth

on Thursday, Aug. 18th

The 2010 census reports that Detroit, Michigan has suffered the second worst case of depopulation in the first decade of the 21st century, with numbers just behind that of New Orleans.  This summer I had the opportunity to take a trip to Detroit to see the city for myself.

Photo #1: I caught the 125 bus from Detroit’s metro airport to downtown Detroit, a trip of about an hour and a half. The bus driver, a man by the name of Barry Ray, set the tone for my entire trip. He spoke to each and every person who got on the bus. Most of the people were groggy and humbly trudging along to their jobs; merely responding with a nod. Some people were alive and jubilant, saying “good morning” before Barry did. Barry would reply with “Great morning”. The people on the bus caught my interest: a pair of elder white male construction workers, a young African American male teenager with a backpack, a couple of young Asian ladies who came to Detroit to work for the summer. I too was on the bus in Detroit, working for the summer.

Photo #2: Frontline Solutions, a consulting group based in New York, working in collaboration with the Kellogg Foundation, hired a group of young college students and recent college grads like me to do a weeklong tour of the great city of Detroit. We visited Detroit’s community centers, halls, and churches to speak to youth groups about Detroit’s employment situation, or lack thereof. I got a chance to see Detroit’s streets for myself as we toured around the city. We met the Matrix Community Service group at a church, Prevailing Community Development group at a center, and a group by the name of Cody Rouge Alliance at Don Boscoe Hall. At all three venues we conducted a series of icebreakers, which lead to think-tank style discussions, and concluded with one-on-one interviews. The discussions started with questions about employment, but touched on education, safety, racism, self-esteem, and approaches to a better holistic living. And most importantly: we discussed the youths’ mind state.

Photo #3: The soul of the city didn’t stop when Motown cut its last track. And Detroit, the blue-collar Midwest town with a flavor for flash- as we once knew it, is far from dead.

Photo #4: No, like all things in this world, Detroit is just going through the process of expansion and contraction. Around the city, I saw people wearing Detroit hats everywhere, showing that people take pride in their hometown. I saw art projects, showing that people cared about the aesthetics of their neighborhoods. I saw abandoned plants where small shrubs were sprouting, showing signs of life. I saw old high schools being torn down, and new ones being built. I saw “out with the old and in with the new.”

Photo #5: At times, I saw glimpses of New Orleans in this great city to the North: A city depleted of its population. A city with a large amount of black residents, a heavy French and Native American influence, and racism in the midst of cultural fusion. A city with notable hairstyles, food, and musical history. And most of all: a city that is rebuilding. Detroit, one of America’s jewels: as this city goes- so goes America.

Photo #6: As I left Detroit, I realized that the blue collar attitude of past generations, combined with the ingenuity of this current generation will bring about an interesting mix. I can only imagine what changes I’ll see next time I ride the bus through Detroit.

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