Give Detroit a Chance

This article was written by Carmen Bojanowski, Third Year Challenge Detroit Fellow

“Innovation,” “young professional,” “growth,” and “sustainability” are just a few of the buzzwords that people in their twenties have heard and read so much that somewhere between graduation and their monotonous entry-level job, they seem to have completely lost their meanings. If I were to say that Detroit is an up and coming hub of all of those things, you’d probably click to the next article solely because you’re tired of hearing about hubs and incubators for the budding entrepreneur. So for the sake of my reputation and your sanity, I’m just going to say to give Detroit a chance.

We’ve all heard the horror stories about the city. The population has decreased exponentially in past years (approximately 63% since 1950), 38% of residents live below the poverty level, that whole bankruptcy ordeal, and don’t even get me started on the violent crime rate. These stories have been told time and time again, and while yes, they are true, the city is much more than that.

More and more businesses are opening in the city, from all of the unique restaurants to Detroit’s pride and joy, Shinola, and in 2012, reported that the Detroit area was the second best in the nation to check out if you’re looking for a job in technology. The overall conditions are still challenging, but Detroit isn’t the seedy, dark abyss that it seems to be portrayed as. For 688,000 people or so, Detroit is still home, and it’s something to take pride in.

“Detroit is a media phenomenon where people love to see us fail and they love to see us win,” said Elizabeth Grabowski, 24, a fellow in Challenge Detroit. “It’s a hot topic. No matter how we are portrayed we should think of it as an opportunity. People are watching us and talking about us – the whole world.”

Challenge Detroit is an urban revitalization program that attracts and retains college graduates from Detroit, the greater area and across the country to work with a Detroit or metro-Detroit host company, as well as city non-profits for a year. The program is in its third year with a 90% retention rate when the fellowship is over. Part of the goal is that Detroiters may not be the only ones with that sense of pride. These people get to experience the city for themselves, not just take Eminem’s or Dan Gilbert’s words for it.

Grabowski grew up in Sterling Heights, attended the University of Detroit Mercy to study architecture, and currently lives in Detroit’s Brush Park. “I owe a lot to the city of Detroit for the education I have received at the University of Detroit Mercy,” she said. “Detroit is one of the best places to learn how to design because you are exposed to so many unique situations. The environment really teaches you to be versatile, open-minded, and resourceful. Detroit has helped to shape my creative passion and defined my strengths.”

Larry Latimore, 30, and Nicholas Prys, 22, grew up in Detroit, and currently live in the city as fellows in Challenge Detroit. Both left the state for college, but had no doubt that they’d come back. Latimore said that he doesn’t feel at home anywhere else and always saw himself in the city as an adult.

“Detroit is rugged, but beautiful. Detroit is loud. People across the globe admire it. There’s no doubt that Detroit is going to be my home base for the rest of my life,” said Prys. “Detroit represents my family, friends and future. There’s an incredible amount of untapped opportunity here. I’d be stupid to leave.”

Prys’ host company is Campus Commandos, located in the heart of the downtown area, an advertising startup that markets to college students.

Up until Kenneth Andejeski, 24, was accepted into Challenge Detroit, he had never been to Detroit. “I didn’t buy into any of the negative hype, but I didn’t feel compelled to visit,” he said. “I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and visiting Detroit was never a topic of discussion. I came to the recent revelation with some native Detroiters that people from Detroit always visit Chicago, but the desire is rarely reciprocated.”

Detroit has always been known for its auto industry, the heart of the Big Three. These days, with countless startups, a developing tech industry, and young people flocking to the city to be a part of something new, the Motor City seems to be broadening its horizons. Though it’ll always be the Motor City, just plus some.

“Here I have had an immediate opportunity to meet and work with leaders and top organizations in this city,” said Andejeski. “My fellowship has provided a lot of those opportunities for me, but I also realize that the potential exists to forge that path on my own.”