Experience: Detroit

I’m Jessica Sauvageau, a senior graduating with Health, Global Studies, and Sociology majors. I went on the HILT about sustainable agriculture to California in 2015. I found it to be an amzing learning experience and chose to attend another for the last Spring break of my college career.

Detroit is a city deep in history. It has fallen many times, but continually rebuilds and reinvents itself. This message below sums up the powerful vibes that are felt throughout the city.


This message is a part of a larger mural (shown below) which takes old public spaces and brings energy to them. Empowerment and persevering against the odds seems to be in the blood of the people of Detroit. (check out fel3000ft.com to see more of this guy’s awesome work)


Unkept lots and seemingly abandoned houses rest in districts teeming with reminders of Detroit’s economic inequality. The city center is within sight, but often beyond reach for those living in this area.


A feeling of discomfort rushed through me as it was yet again reaffirmed that my solidly middle class life is a luxury in communities such as these. I can only try to imagine what it would be like to be impoverished in a place with no forseeable social mobility. How hopeless would life be?

But apparently not hopeless at all. Even in these places, art blatantly stands out and cannot be ignored. It brings beauty and the positive, empowering vibes to nearly every block. Street art is constantly changing and being taken over by new artists in new forms of self expression or experiencing the damages of time and weather.


While street art is impermanent, it is representative of the unpredictibility of life.  Detroit has seen prosperity in times of industrialization and hardship in times of recession. Art is key to the culture of Detroit. This is illustrated through the choice of the Detroit Historical Museum to place other forms of art on display.


Below are works shown at the Detroit Historical Museum.

20170226_140457.jpg20170226_140348.jpgArt is a medium which allows us to travel through time and thought to analyze history and the experiences of those who were here before us.


A sculpture (above) is located outside the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (below).


Within the walls of this magnificent building lies a memorable and life changing experience for many. The tour begins with foods and other elements of various african cultures from the Zulu of South Africa to the Yoruba of Nigeria. Following this is an extensive and detailed history of slavery and the experiences of those individuals. The sensory experience developed by the museum includes visuals such as darkened, stone walled rooms with mannequin men chained behind bars and the reconstruction of slave quarters on a ship. The physical representation of slaves packed and chained together as cargo, is equipped with replaying audio recordings of women crying, men coughing, and the boat rocking. After this gut-wrenching experience, written descriptions and other visuals explain the experiences of the slaves that survived the trip to America. Further portions of the exibit provide the history of the underground railroad through detroit to Canada, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, and Jim Crow’s “separate by equal” laws. Before and following the Great Depression, Detroit and the region as a whole became the epicenter of the auto industry, bringing in people from all over the country to work. This was a time that the African American population exploded in the area. The later Civil Rights movement became a pivitol time in history increasing the basic rights of Black men and women.

But the fight for equality is far from over. The rich oral and artistic histories are ever-present in Detroit. Despite the continual struggles to survive and succeed, I have no doubt that the community of detroit will fight on.


PS. If you haven’t already, All of You need to go to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. It gives SO much more meaning to what you learn in class or books.


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