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My time during Semester in Detroit helped me remember what it was like to be in community. I had originally applied to do SiD in 2020 before the pandemic hit, so I had done an in-person immersion weekend where we stayed at the Cass Corridor Commons, visited the Boggs center, and made a large community dinner together. I was so excited to do the program, and I had such high hopes. Then Covid hit and SiD was canceled. I spent my summer at home, isolated, as so many of us did.
The following summer of 2021, I finally got the chance to do the program. However, it looked very different. We lived in separate dorms rather than the Commons, classes were online, and most businesses and events were still closed to the public. But, we had just gotten out of a long winter of Covid. I hadn’t seen many people besides my housemates as no one had in-person classes, and I was becoming more and more burnt out. College can be an isolating place even in normal circumstances: everyone is of the same age range, everyone seems to be so overachieving and career focused, and I felt like I was the only one who didn’t know what they were doing in this space as a first generation student. SiD helped me find a place in a community, and I was hopeful and ready to move to Detroit.
In my experience it has been difficult to find people who care about social justice and are dedicated to the fight because we are often disillusioned and worked tired by capitalism. However, taking Diana’s Grassroots Environmental Organizing Class and reading Joyful Militancy: Building Thriving Resistance in Toxic Times, learning about past movements in Detroit in Stephen’s History of Detroit class, and having open conversations with everyone in the program made me realize that there is hope, healing, and community in activism. I have continued to exercise this belief by making friends in the city during the program and working to help organize the Detroiters Speak Class this year.
In a city where institutions such as the State, County, and City governments have systematically broken up families, communities, and neighborhoods through illegal overtaxation of property taxes, foreclosure for miniscule amounts, and the demolition of now “abandoned” foreclosed upon homes, the idea of community still holds a strong significance. Although waning with newcomers and gentrifiers, Detroit is still a place where people say hello to strangers as they pass and where people know their neighbors. Detroit still has some of the most robust neighborhood councils from the Charlevoix Village Association to the Brightmoor Alliance. I learned to counteract the narratives that “Detroit needs saving” or that “Detroit is coming back” through my work at the United Community Housing Coalition as I worked with long-term residents who have been fighting to save their homes and communities the whole time.
The Semester in Detroit Program changed my worldview. I’m no longer interested in working for a large nonprofit working towards a vague idea of social justice at a large scale, but I am now more focused on meeting people; understanding their needs, daily joys, and struggles; and working in a sustained and community-rooted effort. I am not looking to save anyone, and no one can save themselves alone. Change happens through trust, community building, and revolutionary imaginations. Change happens through community, and I think I’ve found mine in the Semester in Detroit program.