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Passion and compassion define Detroit

This summer I will be traveling…to Portland, New York, Brattleboro (Vermont) and Toronto. All great cities. In addition to enjoying them for all they have to offer, I intend to ask an important question of many people I encounter: What are your perceptions about Detroit right now? My goal is two-fold:

1. Find out how (if) perceptions about Detroit have changed outside of our region.

2. Offer those I encounter a new lens through which they can see the Detroit we know and love.

I decided to add this question to my summer vacation dialogue when I found myself steeped in Detroit’s culture last Friday. I understood two important driving forces that permeated everything I experienced: passion and compassion.

On this unassuming Friday, I started my day by heading into the city to meet Jonella Mongo and her friend Connie Harris, both former education leaders in the Detroit Public Schools. This was a meeting to confirm these incredible women as house party hosts supporting InsideOut Literary Arts Project (compassion). We met at the brand new Starbuck’s in Campus Martius.

InsideOut has helped over 5,000 students find their voice through poetry and literary self-expression. Or as Arzelia Williams, a senior at Detroit School of the Arts, puts it: “iO has given me a voice. It’s been life changing and a way for me to bring attention to the issues I care about.”  [Thank you Nichole Christian for sharing the quote.] InsideOut was created in Detroit by founder, writer, and visionary, Terry Blackhawk (passion). The meeting went well. They were happy to support. We were happy to have their support.

insideOut students, raising their hands as they find their voices.

InsideOut students, raising their hands as they find their voices.

Next up?! Challenge Detroit presented solutions to help Detroit Future City deal with the issue of blight in several Detroit neighborhoods. The “Detroit Strategic Framework” (according to the DFC website) guides the work of Detroit Future City. [It] “articulates a shared vision for Detroit’s future, and recommends specific actions for reaching that future.”

Having a focus to this very broad and noble mission for two hours greatly helped me understand the important work this organization is undertaking. Enter the Challenge Detroit fellows.

Two Challenge Detroit representatives from 6 teams of 5 people presented their research findings and recommendations for addressing blight in 6 Detroit neighborhoods. Their passion was evident. Their compassion drove them to not only recommend change, but to take part in executing that change.

The Challenge Detroit class of 2013-2014, making a difference IS their mission.

The Challenge Detroit class of 2013-2014, making a difference IS their mission.

Representatives from each of the neighborhoods attended the presentation. Pride and passion were shining brightly in their eyes. The 30 Challenge Detroit fellows live, work, play and give in the city. They offer their  intellectual capital, time, and compassionate service to several non-profit partners throughout the community (other partners this year included COTS, the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, and Focus:HOPE). It was a joy to hear the hope, vision, and solution-oriented thinking from 30 young leaders.

I left for my next stop encouraged and recharged. It was time for lunch. So many great options, but Russell Street Deli won. Cabbage soup and Eastern Market – two of my favorite things. I had 45 minutes before my next meeting. I stopped to answer emails and eat my soup with friends at Macro Connect. Macro Connect is a technology solutions company focused on serving schools, small businesses, legal firms and non-profits. They have great passion for education, and provide cutting-edge and powerful technology solutions to help Detroit’s students. They also strongly encourage their employees to volunteer and serve on boards.

Russell Street Deli, a Detroit Institution. Breakfast or lunch....Go eat!

Russell Street Deli, a Detroit Institution. Breakfast or lunch….Go eat!

I finished my cabbage soup and headed across Gratiot to Trinosophes for my next meeting. A new performance/event space/coffee shop – you name it – Trinosophes has something for many occasions. It is also a perfect meeting space. Tall ceilings, a fresh look, lots of space, great food, tea, drinks and energy (passion). My last meeting of the day was again focused on education and improving the lives of Detroit youth. A common theme for the day (compassion).

A few hours later I made my way to the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art to hear the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival concert. It was incredible.

Surrounded by a stunning collection of contemporary art, carefully collected and displayed by George N’Namdi, along with the music performed by two young quartets, the PUBLIQaurtet and the Donald Sinta Quartet and the riveting, passionate, creative, poet/performer, jessica Care moore, it was a perfect way to end the day.

The Festival's two quartets along with jessica Care moore.

The Festival’s two quartets along with jessica Care moore.

I was proud of my adopted city, inspired by it…and by the people living and working to make Detroit an unbelievable place to call home. This was one day. Bring on the world’s perceptions and reactions. Detroit has a powerful message of passion and compassion: we care, we believe, we achieve, and we make a difference…one simple day at a time.

Natalie Bruno
Natalie Bruno is the Director of Talent & Organizational Culture at Mango Languages, a business that enriches lives through language and culture, via cutting-edge language-learning software. Prior to this appointment, she was the Chief Operating Officer & Vice President for Development with Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings, Eisenhower Dance, and the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival. In 2009, she launched Detroit Passport to the Arts with a group of young professionals and was named one of Crain’s Detroit Business 2010 “40 Under 40” honorees for her work in attracting audiences to cultural organizations. A native of Chicago, Natalie has made Metro Detroit her home since 2003. She remains active on the board of Detroit Passport to the Arts, and also serves on the board of Challenge Detroit. Follow her @NatalieBruno11.