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Detroit is the "Main," not the "Side"

Growing up in the city, I never realized my LOVE for my Detroit! It never occurred to me, until I went away for college. I attended a small historically black college in Talladega, Alabama. It was in the country, in the middle of nowhere with one McDonald’s, Burger King, Krystal Burger and KFC; we were excited when Wendy’s was built my junior year!Although it was a small school, we had students from all over the world.

When people asked where I was from, I proudly stated I was from “Detroit”, “the 3-1-3”!

I remember people asking me “do you have a gun” or “did you come from a bad neighborhood’ or “how did you get out safely”. Regardless of the negative responses from people, I always “repped” my city proudly. Everyone on the yard knew that my Detroit crew and I were proud! I didn’t realize how our actions and spirits would ultimately influence their opinions, which previously had been formed by negative media.When I traveled abroad in the late 90s, that was when I learned the real power of media, and how my city was portrayed. I was blessed with an opportunity to be a part of the Lions Club Renaissance Chapter travel exchange program to Japan. There were students from Thailand, Japan, France, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, and from all over world.

We had our first joint dinner and I noticed that I was sitting by myself, until one of my peers from Switzerland asked if he could sit at my table. Come to find out, he didn’t have any other seating options, but I am glad he asked. I was eager to meet new people, so of course I said yes (and it worked out great because he was nice eye candy)!We had a great conversation and people walked by and just looked. When we finished eating, he thanked me for being “so nice”. I was perplexed by his comment, so I asked how his opinion of me was shaped. He quickly stated that his perception was shaped by the media. Also, the other students talked about me and they didn’t know what to expect from a black person from DETROIT.

After our conversation, the word must have spread that I was “nice” because, people started talking to me and the rest of my trip was enjoyable. During the closing ceremony, many students stated how I changed their minds about Detroit and black people. At 20 years old, I didn’t get it, but 17 years later I do!

A few months ago, a close college friend from Bermuda, tagged me in a post on Facebook. She stated that she was watching a story about Detroit on CNN. She continued to say that she has an affinity towards a city that she only visited ONE time because of me and my LOVE for my city, during college and to this day.

This post confirmed that people are always watching, even when I was 18 years old. So when people from the city or the state talk negatively about our city, we must understand that the world is watching.

My love all became clear when I recently met someone from Detroit that went to school in Atlanta and lived in many cities. He said he moved back because when he was in New York, you knew a New Yorker, when he was in Boston, you knew a Bostonian, but when he lived in other cities there wasn’t the same passion for their cities. He realized that he had to live in a city that had people with “passion for place”! That said it all to me because I have so much passion for this place. I have lived in other cities and traveled all over the world, but there is nothing like my first love.

Yes, I loved living in Houston, Atlanta, New Jersey and Philadelphia, but those were my “side loves”. Yes, the “sides” were fun and I had a great time, but my “main love” has character, loves me back, is authentic and has grit! My “main” is all of that, like a bag of BBQ Bettermade chips and a red Faygo pop! So let’s stop treating Detroit like it’s the “side” and give it the respect a “main” deserves!

Sommer Woods
Sommer Woods is the director of external relations for M-1 Rail, a 3.3-mile modern streetcar system that will strengthen the backbone of the Detroit region by downtown Detroit to Midtown to New Center/North End. Sommer was formerly a member of former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing’s administration, serving as the film, culture and special events director for the city of Detroit. In this role, she managed the city’s film-related efforts and coordinated all aspects of special events for the City of Detroit. Sommer also serves as Detroit City Council’s Appointee to the Belle Isle Advisory Council. She is a board member of Tour de Troit, a proud Midnight Golf Program mentor and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated. Follow her @SommerWoods1.