Michigan and Its Bad Rap

Everywhere I go, I meet people from Michigan.

And everywhere I go, I meet people who have heard the absolute worst about my hometown.

During my travels of the last few weeks, I commiserated with transplanted Detroiters who fondly recalled their years growing up in the Motor City. And I defended Detroit to so many who said, “I hear it’s a terrible place…all bombed out…nowhere you’d like to visit.”

Um, whatever.

This morning, at a PRSA Detroit event involving three local media pros – Kristin Bull from Crain’s Detroit Business, Seth Myers from WXYZ Channel 7 (ABC) and Steve Frye from the Oakland Press – the topic came up, of course. As it always does. These folks cover this broken and rebuilt town and all of us who live here share a reverence and a respect for the place we call home.

“You can tell which editors are working on which days at CNN,” said Seth Myers. “When there are positive photos of Detroit, it’s someone from here. And when it’s the worst possible Getty image, it’s someone who’s never been here.”

True that.

The thing is, it’s really easy to tell people how to play the game from the cheap seats. I left Detroit. And I returned. It was a deliberate decision, a knowledge-based move. I want to call this place home.

But I understand how people in other places – other smog-choked, high-cost-of-living, racially divided places – must think that Detroit is a hell on Earth. It’s what they see in the media. It’s what they hear through the grapevine. It’s what people in the bleachers pontificate about.

What if, instead of waxing critical about other places, other people, and other topics we know nothing about, we focused on the here-and-now, the moment-we’re-in, and turned our gaze inward? Imagine that. People looking at their own stuff, their own backyard, their own goods and bads.

What would happen then? We’d have a hell of a nicer world to live in, that’s for sure. Because as much as it’s easy to train one’s gaze on everything external (he’s to blame, she’s a putz, it’s the job, it’s the city, it’s the fill-in-the-blank), it’s all a mirror.

A trick. A reflection. What we see outside of ourselves is exactly what’s going on inside.

Detroit’s not to blame for, well, anything. It’s a place. A landscape. With history and terrain and living, breathing stories.

If you can’t find a job, it’s you. If your house isn’t worth beans, stop looking for a leg up – live in it and live well. There’s a ton of people in my city starting fresh, rewriting the story, paving a new landscape, and from where I sit, it looks energetic and beautiful and something really exciting to be a part of.

I’m all in.

Are you?

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