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We remember Detroit before it was "cool"

It is no misnomer that Detroit has seen its fair (and unfair) share of good and bad days. As we continue to grow as a city, it is important to remember those that contributed to Detroit’s coolness before we became popular.

While riding down Woodward Avenue it can be very easy to lose count of the many cranes and scaffoldings used to build new developments in the D. Our restaurant scene continues to expand and there are multiple housing opportunities underway. But as Detroit’s most recent story gets told, it would be reverent for us to be mindful that Detroit’s resurgence shouldn’t be told by one type of person and we should appropriately pay homage to those that helped establish what we have now.

The overflowing energy in Detroit is amazing, but a lot of us have noticed that mainstream media continue to report Detroit’s “coolness” as if it was just created and discovered yesterday. If we start to search the internet about cool things happening in Detroit, we see a depiction of a non-diversified perception of what Detroit is. With the lack of diversity within various articles, blogs and even videos, everyone that is showcased looks the same. As I stated earlier, I’m appreciative of the added energy and excited for what’s to come, but it’s as if we forgot about the great people and programs that have always been here.

A group of friends came together and decided to hang out on Belle Isle

A group of friends came together and decided to hang out on Belle Isle because we wanted to       (photo credit: Daidria Grayson)

When I think back to my younger and more recent days, it’s fairly easy for me to recall a cool Detroit. From grabbing the world famous pancakes at the Clique Restaurant for a breakfast meeting to hanging out for “Books, Blankets and Belle Isle” with friends, cool Detroit has been around for a while.  I remember everyone looking forward to the annual Fire Ball benefit for the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. At the time, I was too young to attend, but it was an event in the city that created excitement and received a lot of attention.


PJ Morton performs with his band in Detroit. PJ is also a member of the band Maroon 5 (photo credit: Urban Organic)

I also recall Urban Organic (UO) which brought Detroit amazing music acts. Because of Urban Organic we were able to see amazing musicians such as Jill Scott, Common, Estelle, Eric Roberson, PJ Morton (Maroon 5 member), Anthony David, Jazmine Sullivan, and Raheem DeVaughn before they were internationally known and Grammy nominated/award-winning artists.  Urban Organic also introduced Detroit artists such as Kem, Dwele, Amp Fiddler, Monica Blaire, Suai and Charity. Even today, UO still provides opportunities for music lovers to discover amazing vocalists.  And speaking of music, Chene Park has consistently brought us legends such as Maze and Frankie Beverly for years.

Anthony David performing an acoustic set in Detroit (photo credit: Urban Organic)

Anthony David performing an acoustic set in Detroit (photo credit: Urban Organic)

There are so many memories that many of us have.  Attending the Festival of the Arts with my family or the Detroit Taste Fest with friends, we always found a way to have a great time. Even with entrepreneurship, it didn’t just become something overnight. Detroiters have always been creative and there have been thousands of businesses built right here.

New Edition rocks on the river (photo credit: DeRone Buffington)

New Edition rocks on the river at Chene Park (photo credit: DeRone Buffington)

So let’s be clear. It’s not just a white person or a black person contributing to Detroit’s growth. It is all of us, which is comprised of many colors, cultures, religions and faiths. So let’s remind everyone that we’ve been around and always considered ourselves cool. To paraphrase Todd Smith (LL Cool J): It may be a comeback, but we’ve been here for years. And to those who hung in there and laid the foundation for what we have today, thank you.

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.