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.


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