Captain Hope

It’s no lie, I’m a big booster for Detroit. Everyone on my Facebook feed knows that. But that doesn’t mean I’m Pollyanna about its problems. If you only see posts from me about the delights of the D that’s disingenuous. The city’s recovery has a long way to go.

All the street lights are working again, suggesting a beacon of brightness to follow. But we MUST fix our schools and redouble our efforts around public safety. Otherwise, we’ve created an urban chic mirage, a pretty picture of reclaimed architectural artifacts behind which sits a broken menacing place. Disturbing and unsafe for all.

Progress in our once proud city is sometimes measured in inches. Last night for the first time in forever I parked my car on the street. This morning I found the inside ransacked and a small amount of cash stolen. Strangely a half consumed styrofoam cup of diet coke I had left in the console was placed on the floor mat undisturbed. Nothing else appears to be missing.

On the plus side, I fared much better than the owner of a white Mercedes parked in front of They Say Bar a block down the street from Atwater Brewery on Friday. That’s maybe a profound understatement. Late in the afternoon a black SUV appeared in broad daylight. A man in the passenger seat got out and pumped 12 shots into the guy in the Mercedes and drove off. Just like that. Police are treating it like a hit of some sort.

Despite the smallness of my car burglary, I decided to report it anyway. Captain Hope of the Detroit Police Force responded to my text in 7 minutes. She is literally a beacon of HOPE in our neighborhood. Conscientious, responsive and tough. She was also on the scene in minutes overseeing the hit, the first murder in our area in over 15 years. Her last name isn’t ironic, it’s inspiring. I mean, for every recent police incident we’ve heard about in Ferguson and across this country over the past year, I’m 100% sure there’s also another dedicated police officer just like Captain Hope out there doing her job and making life better and safer for the rest of us. Let’s face it– it’s way harder being a good cop these days, with greater risks and far fewer rewards.

I’m not going to sugarcoat these episodes and dismiss the unsettling feeling even a petty crime creates. This is the same city where my grandmother was killed 25 years ago, and I still remember the months of pit in the stomach anxiety that lingered. I also remember my grandma dismissing a petty burglary on her front porch just a few months before her murder. When the thief grabbed my grandma’s big rhinestone purse, she insisted the only thing he got was a kielbasa she picked up earlier at Giglio’s Market. But afterward, there was an immediate uproar. Every friend and relative implored her it was time to move. Get out of Detroit for good. She wouldn’t hear of it. I hope I don’t regret not making more of this recent petty crime.

In terms of sheer numbers, crime is way better than those days. Unless and until it happens to you.

People like my grandma and the victim on Friday are not numbers. They are real people. Mourned and buried. In our community meeting a few months back we met over a half dozen neighbors who have similarly lost loved ones being in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time in this city.

I really wish I had a book of access cards to our Career Online High School on the front seat of the car last night. Something tells me the perpetrator needed the $20 in quarters and small bills way more than me. No biggie. But what he really needs is a better pathway than petty crime. Is that still too Pollyanna or can we really make education an answer?

That’s where we must turn our attention in the days ahead. Every person in school or training for a better job is just way too busy for the needless shenanigans I’ve detailed here. Can’t we all agree on that much?

Resurget cineribus. We will rise from our ashes. image

The Others

There was a day and a time when I was right there with them. Right in the center of the big bubble, the one where life happened. Where lunches were made each morning and packed up and sent off with earnest students and dutiful working dads. Where teachers took roll and class began and then after modest small talk outside the cube we all gathered in the conference room for a status update. Where meals were shared in cafeterias.

And trips to the grocery store. And dry cleaning and a dozen other mindless routine chores. Until the next day.

I was part of it just as much as anyone. The action items and next steps. I believed in synergies and leverage and all that was possible, and cited best practices in my emails, emails I dutifully sent summarizing our action items and next steps.

I did get a bit concerned. Right after I pressed send there were a flurry of positive responses, but then I heard from someone who hadn’t been included in the c.c. line and they were quite perturbed. Somehow they had heard about the meeting and the email and they felt left out and as such betrayed.

Sometime before I wandered over to their office to discuss it, a company email went out about the next session of the crucial confrontations workshop. I decided image

imageto confirm my attendance. And by the time I went over to talk with the person disgruntled by not getting the email, they had left for the day.

That night, eating dinner with the kids and watching the news, it never occurred to me that I’d never reconnect with that co-worker about that email. It never occurred to me that I’d have absolutely no reason or interest in ever following up.

It was hours later, hours after I had received a phone call– the phone call– from my dad and had been to the police station and identified the body with him and given a statement that it occurred to me, that email didn’t really matter, as I had suggested.

Not many things mattered for a long while. But just as importantly I wasn’t going to learn anything keeping up on my emails. The answers were elsewhere, the answers were with others.

How far can goodwill, karma and good vibes take us?

New York Times editorial:

ron j.stefanski


Detroit, Mi 2 hours ago

Frank Bruni nailed it talking about the spirit and promise of Detroit! It’s really not about what Detroit was, or is, but about what is in the state of becoming.  As John Bryant Hope recently said at the Governor’s conference on Mackinaw Island, “The whole country needs a win in Detroit.” After all, the failed school system, structural unemployment, massive blight and multigenerational poverty simply refract the seemingly intractable problems facing many other large American cities like Baltimore, Cleveland and Chicago (all cities I happen to love, grit and all). What is uniquely Detroit, however, is this pervasive indefatigable, ground zero, underdog us versus everybody spirit permeating the city’s revival springing up in pockets across Detroit’s varied landscape.

Yes it’s true, Detroit can be a study in contrasts; in racial divide, and in segregated and war torn ghetto streets, where it’s hard to tell whether a bomb dropped or the place exploded spontaneously, like the neighborhood I grew up in over on the eastside.

When I lived in Detroit in the 60’s and 70’s, Detroit was a cascading series of ethnic enclaves.  Hardscrabble guys, immigrants from Europe and the Deep South worked on cars with their hands in front of small frame homes with impeccably manicured lawns. 

We returned here 4 years ago to redefine our post kid rearing midlife, and living here now 50 years later, it can best be described as home. At the same time it’s America’s Final Frontier– pockets of lawlessness and sheer anarchy, remnants of a lost civilization, an epic diaspora with guns blazing in feigned attempts to impose a new rule of law over a vast untamed expanse much like the fabled Wild West. There is also a massive Gold Rush underway, lining some pockets and leaving others once again high and dry.

Interestingly, against this colorful backdrop, what we find is a palpable energy kinetically charging our everyday encounters with new neighbors and total strangers alike. Just yesterday I met Eric Perry, a talented commercial photographer who was gifted a lease on a choice pop up retail space by Gilbert’s Rock Venture organization. Why? Someone on Gilbert’s executive team saw Eric’s pics of Detroit’s cognoscenti interspersed with gritty Detroiters, and thought a gallery display would be cool.  Gilbert is pretty much one of those modern day robber barons who has a solid lock on cool in Detroit, and can make things happen.

Nowadays Eric randomly hauls in interesting passersby into his gallery for a free photo shoot. The result?

 “Forward Detroit,” a gallery of Eric’s best. After 25 years of successful commercial photography, Eric needed to branch out artistically. His kids are about to leave the nest, he’s thinking about new ways to express his talents (and continue to pay the rent and tuition and etc.). He has a keen eye for capturing unscripted authenticity. Where will this lead? He’s not sure, but he expresses self-assurance without bravado. “I just know it will be good.”

Why the confidence based on nothing more than good vibes? Maybe because a continuous wave of goodwill and positive energy has to lead somewhere better. As it turns out, we all need this to be true. Otherwise Detroit’s busted bubble is simply our own.


So we look to better days, undefined any further than by looking to each other.