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Tonya Allen: Are you repping ‘Our Detroit’?

Detroit is at a crossroads.

Depending on where you stand in the city, your opportunities might seem endless or your opportunities appear to be shrinking. If you are a Detroiter, your perspective is colored by whether you consider yourself a part of a new, emerging Detroit or a part of the established, legacy Detroit.

New Detroit represents the young and talented influx of residents who are making Detroit their home. They are populating Downtown and Midtown, establishing density and creating buzz. They are identifying problems and opportunities in our city, and acting on them with entrepreneurial energy.

Legacy Detroit represents the long-standing residents who have stood in the gap when others stopped investing in the city. They have done what they can to keep it alive, doing the daily, gritty work that sustains this city. Their efforts are venerable and enduring. There might be nothing sexy, new or even entrepreneurial about cleaning lots, patrolling streets and serving others. But that work is noble. And yet it receives little honor in a city mesmerized by the new and shiny.

These two Detroits, the new and the legacy, are being juxtaposed as if one is better than the other. This dichotomous view is pitting people who all want the same thing — a vibrant and prosperous city — against each other.  And it is a big mistake.

Detroit needs all of its residents to work together to revive this city. We need the new Detroit’s infectious entrepreneurial energy in neighborhoods outside of Downtown and Midtown. We need the grit, determination and stick-to-it-ness of legacy Detroiters in our Downtown and Midtown. We can’t become so wedded to the idea that starting something new will solve our problems. We have to learn to sustain solutions through hard work and determination, and New Detroit can benefit from this wisdom and experience of Legacy Detroit.

This is why I am on a campaign to discuss and promote an “Our Detroit.” Our Detroit is about the wisdom of inclusion and collective action that we need as a city. Our Detroit is about understanding that we have a shared fate. Our Detroit is about honoring the best of the New Detroit and Legacy Detroit so that we have a better Detroit. Our Detroit is about acknowledging and addressing our challenges, so that we can wisely mitigate against them and ensure Detroit doesn’t become a new city with old economic and racial divisions. Our Detroit is about tackling the tough and stubborn issues that have wrestled our city to the ground — tough issues such as race, class, opportunity, access and equity. Our Detroit is about positioning our city to be a place where everyone has access to prosperity.

As an iconic American city, Our Detroit is our responsibility today and our legacy for tomorrow.

Our Detroit is hard work…..and heart work. It requires us to give attention and to give intention to addressing the growing divide in our city. It requires us to be purposeful about dialogue, invitations, decisions and decision makers.

As we stand at our crossroads, it requires us to answer the most critical question before us: “Which Detroit are your repping?” You’ve guessed it… I am down for Our Detroit.

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