All of our guest speakers have impressed me with their knowledge and work. I have appreciated learning about the history of Detroit as well as its current challenges and the countless groups attempting to provide some kind of solution to them. Raquel Garcia, the Executive Director of Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision, has stood out in particular. We learned early on in her lecture that she is not originally from Detroit. When she came to the city, however, she fell in love with it. She arrived at a time when Southwest Detroit had an unsafe reputation and was struggling to handle the dynamics of a declining city that had settled in. Even when her corner of the city (and the rest of the city in general) was reaching lows at an unprecedented rate, she formed a connection with the city and the communities calling it home.
In one of her previous positions, she stumbled upon the importance of canvassing. That is, going from door to door and acquainting oneself with community residents. It is hard work and it takes time, but it can often be the most effective way to make an impact. It is the work of connecting where disconnectedness exists. I don’t remember what exactly she said about how she became involved in the work, but I remember hearing how it became a sort of routine for her. Meeting her neighbors in the houses around her turned into a consistent schedule of check-ins with them to ask what their needs were. Many of us in the DCERP program have talked about our own projects and the moments which have obligated us to leave the offices we know well now to venture out in the community. We have delivered flyers, gathered community input and, in my case, engaged with rental tenants, if not more. We have all also spoken highly of these experiences. We’ve gained communicative skills and learned how to read unfamiliar and perhaps uncomfortable situations. I don’t think I would be alone in saying that I’ve learned more in these experiences than in many others, most notably, google searches. I would argue that this is because google searches are simply research, but the in-person moments are so much more than just research – they are interactions. You must think to respond verbally and physically, you must consider perspectives and you must honor the fact that you are interacting with a person, not a statistic or a paragraph on a page or screen. The point is not for you to be the only one leaving the interaction having gained something. If done correctly, you can connect communities and learn who you work or live with.
Having heard Raquel describe the benefits of this kind of work, I remember being interested to hear more. Now, having done that kind of work, I think I must just be scraping the surface of how it may be meaningful. As DCERP is meant to give students an idea, although brief, of what “community engaged research” is, I feel as though this kind of experience is critical to the program. I’m glad we got to hear Raquel Garcia’s wisdom on the topic and I’m also glad to have experienced it in a way. Going forward, I hope to continue getting to know the communities I inhabit. A simple knock on the door can go a long way.