Community | Opinion

Detroit is our home, so let's work together to solve its problems

stef mom dad 2

How many of us have ever questioned why we are here? And when I say “here,” I mean Detroit, MI.

Last weekend, while spending time with my family, I was presented a letter and a gift from my father for Father’s Day. The interesting thing to note is that I’m not a father, but my dad felt compelled to give his sons a gift to celebrate the joy we’ve brought to his life as a father. In the letter, my father reminded me of his childhood and the many obstacles and challenges he faced. His birth mother had given him up at a very early age to the family that raised him.

Although he was raised in a loving home, part of my father’s childhood felt as if something or a certain feeling was missing. He even discovered that his last name wasn’t his birth name, and he was ashamed for it. So when my mother and father married and decided to have children, he promised himself that he would not allow his sons to experience the feeling of abandonment that he felt.

My dad has been awesome. Yes, he was stern (even today) but his expectations and standards helped to mold me into the person that I am today. As a father, he introduced me to Motown, Michael Jackson Nelson Mandela, and Dr. Martin Luther Kings’ Walk to Freedom March on Woodward Avenue.

When I was an adolescent, I constantly asked if we could move from our Detroit neighborhood. I was tired of being asked, “Why do you live in Detroit?” I would be embarrassed when I would hear, “Detroit sucks!”

Yet, with my father’s stern look, he would always respond, “There is nothing wrong with Detroit or where we live. This is our home. When you become older, maybe you can change some of the things you don’t like.”

As a 32-year-old man, I am so grateful that I heard those words. There is no place else that I’d rather live and start my own family. I wonder how often we tell our younger family members that we can create our own opportunities here. Yes, we as a city have various difficulties, but I’m almost certain that our solutions may be right in front of us. So as my dad challenged me, let’s continue to challenge each other to roll up our sleeves and get involved.

Oh yeah. The gift that my father presented to my brother and I was a set of matching cufflinks. Each cufflink was the letter W. Eventually my dad embraced his last name “Welch”. He would often tell us, “Our last name is important to me. Represent it well.” After reflecting on his childhood story, I understand why. I also presented him with a Father’s Day gift. The irony is that his gift was a set of cufflinks too. To be exact, the cufflinks were formed as the Detroit Tigers logo – an Olde English D. His cufflinks will serve as a reminder to him of the Detroit pride he instilled in me and the inspiration this city has given me.

So as my father told me, there’s nothing wrong with Detroit and where we live. This is our home. If there is something that we don’t like, let’s try and change it TOGETHER. Thanks Dad.

Stefen J. Welch
Stefen J. Welch is the Assistant Director, Corporate Philanthropy at Wayne State University. A native of Detroit and believer in the city’s future, Welch is an active community engager and spends much of his time dedicated to various community organizations. An alum of Oakland University, Stefen is also an instructor within the Department of Communication and Journalism. Currently he sits on the Board of Directors at Black Family Development, Inc. and Community Health And Social Services (CHASS). He also holds a Master's in Community Development from the University of Detroit Mercy and is graduate of Leadership Detroit. Follow him @stefenj.