Hello, all! My name is Sally Nelson and I am a first-year student at Concordia College. I am planning on majoring in Biology and Psychology, and minoring in Chemistry. I initially became interested in the trip because of a class I was taking with Dr. Steinwand about the oil culture in America, and really, materialism and industrialism (that have manifested themselves in the oil and automobile industry) and their effect on society. On top of what I was learning in that class, the divide and hostility among people in today’s society is an issue of which I wanted to deepen my understanding.
I will be talking about what I experienced on Monday, the 27th of February. Our first activity of the day was heading to the Boggs Center founded by James and Grace Lee Boggs. The Boggs were activists in the Detroit area that fought for civil rights during the 1960s and were friends with Malcolm X and other well-known activists. Our tour guide, Rich, truly showed a side of the city’s history and story that we would not have discovered had we not taken our mobile tour of the East Side. During the tour we traveled to multiple places in the Detroit area that well represented a certain time in Detroit’s history. We first went to a cemetery, where we saw rolling hills formed by the scraping of glaciers, and not flattened by humans. Next, Rich took us to the Packard Automobile plant where he told us the shocking story of the fall of Detroit. The Packard plant is an enormous, 3-story high, plant where around 10,000 people worked to build luxury automobiles. The plant was built in 1905, but production stopped there in 1955. The automation of car production changed the lives of many in Detroit, and the shock wave that rippled from the removal of automobile factory jobs has scarred and emptied the city. Following the Packard plant, we stopped outside the GM factory that was built in 1985. And then he took us by a community garden and finally, the James and Grace Lee Boggs School.
Next we went to the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm where we were given a full tour of the large area where there work was happening. They had several vegetable gardens, a chicken coop, herbs growing, raspberry and blueberry bushes, a few greenhouses, and many flower beds. We encountered many an earthworm, a few grub worms, and a centipede or two while clearing weeds and last year’s plants from several flower beds. Twas a pleasant fun-filled afternoon, I got dirt all over my face and hands, and it was powerful to know what 13 people can do on a February afternoon to make a difference that many will feel.
Later that day we went for a drive downtown. Now, up until this point we had seen some of the roughest parts of Detroit, where houses blackened from fire stood alone in empty lots where houses used to be. Houses with broken glass and tarps for roofs were homes to families. Where the paint had peeled away so much as to expose the raw wood beneath. This, contrasted with the tall glass buildings and sculptures that we found downtown was an incredible juxtaposition. While downtown we looked across the Detroit River to Canada, which was the first time I had seen it in my life! We may or may not have had a brief period when a flattened tire extended our time in a parking garage. But alas, we made it out in time to go to the Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe and enjoy the raw, fluid jazz that is so unique to the Motor City.
This day was probably the most emotional day for me, personally, on the trip so far. The extreme difference in the neighborhoods of Detroit is a physical representation of the social and racial divisions that run deep in the city, divisions that may as well be concrete walls. Our tour guide Rich asked us some questions that got me thinking. When we were outside the ruins of the Packard plant he asked us: what should this space be used for? What can be done to reunite the community with this area? These questions made me think of how often times I find that I go searching for the answers to things, like for some reason, someone else’s idea will always be more profound or well developed than my own. In fact, I think, my generation will have to have the most profound and well developed answers to our own questions that have ever been thought of. We will have to come up with our own answers.