Minor Characters – Detroit, MI

“I’ll just be one of the minor characters in your week” was one of the first things our host, Ian, said to us when we arrived in Detroit. At that point, everything in me was wishing for my Swanson dorm room and some good old Brandeis food. Hungry, missing my friends, and annoyed at the prospect of having no heat or electricity for the next week, I hoped the week would fly by with as few characters as possible. I had no idea what God (and my fearless coordinators) had in store for me.


As the first few days progressed, my group became my family and Detroit became my home. Ian and the other people I encountered began to shape my worldview in their own small ways, which altogether, led to a dramatic change in my perspective. Those who likely considered themselves minor characters in my life were no longer acquaintances but inhabitants of my heart. I learned from our hosts, Ian and Marcia, the values of simplicity, reflection, and care for the earth. Their roommate, Naim, taught me that going with the flow and sharing my talents are both beautiful ways of expressing my love of God and humanity. I learned from Glen at the soup kitchen to treasure joy and Christlike friendship. From the examples of the tireless workers at the Capuchin headquarters, including Jessica, Fr. Tom, and Sally, I learned that my purpose in life, no matter what career I choose, is to give my whole self for others. I learned from Dina, Jonathon, Arthur, and countless others at Alcoholics Anonymous to appreciate resilience, vulnerability, reliance on others, and forgiveness of myself. The warm welcome I received from the people of St. Charles Parish taught me that God’s light shines brightest in other people-people who love, laugh, and share with their whole hearts, even when that is all they have to offer.

There is no doubt the city of Detroit is a struggling city. From abandoned houses and buildings to water shut offs and lack of public transportation to hunger and homelessness, despair and desolation seem to be everywhere. Fueling the pollution and the political contention of the city, a giant incinerator has continued to collect the waste of other cities and turn it into cancer and asthma for the residents for decades. Driving through the city for the first time, I felt like I was drowning in a multitude of injustices that would never be solved. Yet, amidst their difficulties, the people of Detroit maintain a beauty and a pride unmatched by anyone I’ve ever met. If you ask any of the regulars at the soup kitchen how their day is going, you can expect a hearty, “Jesus woke me up today, I’m blessed!” in return. As characters in each other’s life, the people of Detroit support each other, look out for one another, and love with their whole beings.

On our last day together in Detroit, my group, Ian, Marcia, and I were sitting around a table inside a Mexican restaurant. Ian asked me pointedly, “Olivia, what will you take home from this trip?” All I could respond with was a deluge of tears. I was overwhelmed by the amount of love I had received and the massive love I wanted to return to the city and its beautiful people. They had taken me as I was, embraced me as part of their family, and shared their most vulnerable moments with me. I am no longer the girl who arrived at Taproot Sanctuary, ignorant of the world around me and selfishly wishing for a life of comfort and ease. I’ve been transformed into someone who realizes her privilege and is ready to either use it or lose it. The people of Detroit have taught me that my life is not mine but should be dedicated to the well-being of others and of the earth. This change is what hit me as I sat at the table crying, wondering where the week went and how many tissues I had already gone through. Ian laughed with me at my tears, blissfully unaware that he and the rest of Detroit had become more than major characters in my life. They had become the stars.

Olivia Wulbert
Class of 2021

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