Detroit: It’s Not What You Think


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Over fall break myself and nine of my peers had the privilege of going on a Service and Justice Trip to Detroit, Michigan. Coming into this trip each one of us had different ideas and expectations of what this trip would hold for us. For me personally, one of the aspects of the trip that came as a surprise to me was the number of different service sites we would be working at and how these different sites would impact my view of Detroit. During our week in Detroit we had the opportunity to serve people experiencing homelessness at the Pope Francis Center and the Noah Project, learn about and serve the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative, and making arts and craft kits for children for a non-profit called Arts and Scraps. Although each of these experiences taught me an abundance of things, I want to share the experience I had during my time serving at the Pope Francis Center.

The Pope Francis Center is a resource in downtown Detroit for individuals that are experiencing homelessness. During our morning at the Pope Francis Center, we were able to interact with a lot of the guests and hear a lot of their stories. Through these interactions, I learned about the love that people have for Detroit. People who consider Detroit their home love their city fully and want nothing more than for the narrative to be changed. The Pope Francis Center had the most emotional impact on me. Being entrusted with the stories of these individuals was truly a humbling experience, this experience also put into perspective many of the privileges I have in my day to day life that I take for granted such as hot meals, showers, clean clothes, and a roof over my head. I will always cherish the conversation I had with a man named E while we were waiting for his coat to dry as we were standing in the doorway of laundry room. Our conversation started off as most conversations might, with a smile and a how are you doing. The center had just started serving lunch, so I asked E if he was going to grab some soup or a sandwich he told me that he already had breakfast so he wasn’t going to be eating lunch, I then asked if he minded if I asked why, he then went on to tell me how when he was younger he struggled with being overweight and had developed an eating disorder that he still struggled with today he continued by telling me that instead of eating, with the extra change in his pocket, he was going to go to a gas station, buy alcohol, search the streets for weed, and then he would not be left with the question of did he eat too much or not enough.  I thought about this story my whole trip and it still crosses my mind as I reflect on my service and justice trip. Before coming on this trip, I was blind to the fact that individuals experiencing homelessness go through struggles every day that surpass the baseline struggle of being without shelter, a steady income, food/water, and many of the basic survival needs. Before going on this trip I would see an individual experiencing homeless on a corner or outside of a store and would be so quick to place judgement on them for drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes, but now I have to remember that have I no right to judge them as I do not walk in their shoes every day and have no idea what they are going through. Being a part of the Pope Francis Center, even just for a morning, taught me to remember that we are all human first and foremost, and that our days can be made by eye contact, a smile, and a hello.

Before I left for this trip, I was extremely nervous about going to Detroit. When I look back on the reasons why I was nervous I realized that I was only nervous to go to Detroit because of the terrible things that other people had told me. I already had an opinion of the city and the people that lived there before I even arrived. I am excited to share that what I had been told prior to my trip couldn’t have been far from the complete opposite of what I experienced. I have never been to a city with more genuinely kind people with a love and passion for their city. No matter where our group went, we were welcomed with open arms and smiling faces. Being a part of this service and justice trip taught me three important lessons that I am excited to share and implement into my life moving forward

1. We are all human first and foremost.

2. Eye contact and conversation can make a person’s day.

3. The narrative of a city does not make that city, the people who are apart of the city make that city!

Detroit and the wonderful, genuinely kind, welcoming, inspiring people I have met will always have a place in my heart and I will continue to change the Detroit narrative.

Brittney Long, Class of 2022