Detroit stands strong

Thisanjali Gangoda

Last weekend I spent my Halloween at Amnesty International USA’s Midwest Regional Conference in Detroit. When I told several friends and coworkers that I’d be in Detroit, many of them responded with concern over why anyone would visit such a sketchy and desolate city. I have to be honest that considering the reputation Detroit has, I was a bit nervous about traveling there alone. Once known as the world’s largest automotive center, the birthplace of Motown and the core of the labor rights movement in the 1930s, Detroit has amounted to no more than the anti-American dream of urban blight and decay.

It is easy to say this, to point out the obvious and make light of the troubles in Detroit. But as a traveler passing by, it’s unfair to think only this as being true, as it undermines the change that is happening in this city. Those who make quick judgments of Detroit, regardless of its history and potential, will see the empty housing complexes as a bleak reminder of white flight and the suburban racial dilemma. The high crime rates and rampant government corruption become just a telling tale of the reality of American metropolitan areas.

But if you look closer and meet some proud Detroiters, you can see that the city has a thriving arts community in addition to a large immigrant population that is bringing new life into the city. There is also an influx of young professionals seeking higher degrees of education in Detroit, which has brought renewed interest into revitalizing entertainment and performing arts programs.

There are many nonprofit organizations that work to serve the people of Detroit in finding job opportunities, adequate housing and funding for education. A few examples are Freedom House, an organization that provides safe housing for political refugees, Equality Michigan, an organization that advocates for equality for LGBT community members, and Women A.R.I.S.E., a community-based agency that provides rehabilitation programs for female ex-offenders.

Along with these organizations that work for the welfare of Detroit natives, there is also a strong activist network that continues to expand on issues of equality and social justice. Many individuals who have ties to the community through leadership in education and civil service are committed to the rebuilding of Detroit. It was amazing to meet people with passion and faith in the idea of Detroit not being lost among our generation, and that it can once again be a center of economic growth and stability for the United States.

There is something beautiful and strong about the story of Detroit. If such a prosperous hub for commercial industry and growth in America can come crashing down in a decade, why is it that our national political agenda continues to outsource jobs, investment and hope for what once was, instead of creating something new?

The people of Detroit are transforming their city and adapting to the changes that come with globalization. Though there is a lack of corporate accountability and government oversight with much of the inner workings of the city, the people of Detroit have a can do strength that represents the true America. I think it’s about time we stop mocking the epicenter of the new America and start embracing Detroit for what it is: a city with a spirit for revolution.

Contact Thisanjali Gangoda at

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