Consider this a week won – Detroit Community-Engaged Research Program

Consider this a week won

Dear Alona,

So you’ve moved to Detroit and have started your job. How are you feeling? I know last week you were beyond excited to get out of Ann Arbor and immerse yourself in food-access work. Has it been everything you’d hoped for? It’s probably hard to tell so early in the program, but I’m writing to remind you of what you were both excited and nervous about. Last week I remember hearing you tell your friends and parents’ friends about the work you would be doing. You told them you were excited to work with a grass-roots organization that cares about its local community while running as a successful and independent business. You were also hoping to gain a perspective you felt you couldn’t get in Ann Arbor where almost everyone is white, well-educated, and in what you consider to be a bit of a bubble. Have you found that to be the case?

I understand that spending time in Detroit was a big motivator for you to apply to DCBRP, but you can’t forget your excitement about working with Fresh Corner Café (FCC). You were looking forward to bringing new ideas and a passion for food justice to a local business that you believe has their heart in the right place. It seems that since you’ve started working there you intend to contribute more than just excitement. I’ve seen you come up with new project ideas and funding strategies, and though they haven’t been completely thought through, it seems like your bosses somewhat appreciate your enthusiasm and you’re keeping yourself busy, so from my perspective it seems like you’re doing alright.

It’s good to see all of this on your end, but I think one of the most interesting parts of this process is watching your perception of Detroit change. You never realized how big the city is, did you? You had always heard about good work being done here and the need for that work, but did you acknowledge how much of that work was being done by local Detroiters? Did you think about gentrification and what these “economic advances” might mean for Detroit natives? Yesterday at the group’s orientation meeting you heard a blurb read aloud about someone coming into the place you called home and cleaning it. A nice idea, right? Thing is, when they were done cleaning, it didn’t look the same. The hash marks on the trim your parents marked your growth were erased, the pictures were put up in different places, and your favorite possessions had been discarded. You were asked to think of how that made you feel, and you felt sad. Then you had a discussion with the group about how your work in Detroit could potentially resemble this. I’m glad you had that conversation because I’ve seen you get excited about making change and though you might mean well, change must come from those within the system. I think having that discussion made you think about the work you are doing a bit differently, and from what I can tell, you will grow to appreciate how closely FCC works with local community members to increase food access and food involvement, and I to watch you become a better listener and observer through that.

That said, the transition seems to be going well for you and I’m happy you have this opportunity that you are so excited about; I hope it continues to go this way.

Best of luck,

Alona

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