“Go ahead and laugh at Detroit. Because you are laughing at yourself.” – Charles LeDuff, Detroit: An American Autopsy
About a year ago, I was doing my library school practicum at a newspaper library in South Texas. As a former journalist, I had a blast being in the high-energy newsroom amongst the constant banter of the reporters. I would bite my lip, never chiming in while listening to leads develop, news break and theories thrown around. One day in particular I almost bit my lip right off. Two of the reporters were going to Detroit to receive a journalism award. The reporter next to me yelled out “good luck, don’t get shot,” which triggered an onslaught of the Motor City. One of reporters so bravely risking their lives to receive an award said he was actually looking forward to it as he was really fascinated by a city that’s “burning itself down.” Luckily, for my lip’s sake, the metro editor, who is from Toledo, put them all to shame. I don’t remember most of what he said but my scowl turned into a proud smile that only a Detroit native could produce.
I am among the millions who proudly proclaim they are from Detroit. The reality is, most of us are stretching the truth a bit. I was born in Royal Oak, MI and lived in the suburbs of Detroit before moving to Battle Creek, where I spent the majority of my childhood through adolescence. Most of us are from Metro Detroit and only make our way into the City for sporting events or work. I’ve actually only met one person that was born and raised within the city limits. By met I mean I was there when she lashed out on a fellow classmate who said he was from Detroit, but really meant Grosse Point. Which is nothing like the impoverished, corrupted streets of the time and again Murder Capital. So technically, I was born and spent a few years in north Metro Detroit.
During a 10th grade field trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum, our bus driver took a wrong turn and ended up on 8 mile. The bus driver made us all duck until we merged onto the highway. This was a little more than a year before Eminem’s movie, yet we were all aware of where we should and should not be within the “D”. The birthplace of the automobile and Motown was once called the Renaissance City and Paris of the West for its architecture. The now poorest city was once the fourth largest in the U.S. with its peak in the 1950 census. Detroit’s population dropped 40 percent, with less than 700,000 residents fifty years later. While on the edge of chaos, burning itself down, its decay reeking throughout the world, and yet so many still say they are from Detroit when they have the option not too. Why?
The answer is undoubtedly different for most, but I believe it’s because of what Detroit has meant to our way of life. In its glory days, Detroit was the caricature of what was great about our county. Now, it represents what’s wrong with our country and is literally burning itself to the ground. Like a phoenix it will rise from the ashes again. I have hope; the same hope I’ve had my whole life that the Lions will win a Super Bowl. Possibly farfetched, but us Detroiters, faux or real, are resilient, determined and proud.
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Charlie Leduff’s eloquently written memoir, Detroit: An American Autopsy kept staring at me from the bestseller display. I initially didn’t want to read it because I thought it would be too depressing. How could a book about the decaying city I love not be? I finally gave into its persistence and read it. Yes it is incredibly depressing, but its also engaging, inspiring and genuinely funny. It’s a must read. This notion is backed by Detroit native Leduff who claims “Detroit is no longer just a punch line. It is a warning of the future to come for millions of Americans.” Some might argue that Detroit is past its autopsy and onto the wake. But the wake is when you celebrate the life – the good and the bad. It’s the moment within the ashes right before the phoenix regenerates. So before the next time you laugh at Detroit or say, “at least we’re not Detroit”. Ponder where we would be without the Motor City.
Detroit is a place where we’ve had it pretty tough. But there is a generosity here and a well of kindness that goes deep. – Mitch Albom
Hidden History of Detroit - Amy Elliott Bragg
Made in Detroit : a south of 8-Mile memoir – Paul Clemens.
The end of Detroit : how the Big Three lost their grip on the American car market - Micheline Maynard.