[INITIALS OF INTERVIWEE: UI]
[INTIALS OF INTERVIEWER: MS]
MS: I am Marlowe Stoudamire, project director for the Detroit 67 Project. M-A-R-L-O-W-E S-T-O-U-D-A-M-I-R-E.
UI: What’s the Detroit 67 Project about?
MS: Detroit 67: Looking Back to Move Forward is a community engagement project. It’s going to feature diverse voices, programs, and exhibitions in our community that really helps us understand our collective past, and where we are today and where we're going in the future. One of the things that we're trying to do here is create a model for how you can bring a diverse community together that's normally been divided or too far apart. We're bridging gaps around generations, race and culture, and geography. We're trying to make sure that people understand that this community has a will to reconcile, understand different truths, and sharing different perspectives, but really it's about how you bring a diverse community together around the historic effects of a crisis, and not only that, but it's more about helping people find their role in the present in order to inspire the future. It’s important that no one gets their story left out. It's important that people understand that something this big takes all of us to tell it, and so really this is a community engagement project. Our exhibition will package that history. It will take people through different points of engagement in different times, so everyone understands, again, there's a collective history here, there's a collective presence, and more than anything, how are we going to inspire a collective future as we look ahead to 2067, and that's one of the most important aspects about this project.
UI: Why do you personally get excited about this? I mean, this is an opportunity that excites people.
MS: What really excites me about this is that if you really peel the onion and you go beneath the surface of all of the cool new things happening in Downtown and Midtown, we're still really kind of a segregated region. We still don't have the right kind of conversations. We’re not talking, but instead of talking about what's wrong, we can start talking about what we can do together to make things right. I think it's important that we’re at a place now where there's a readiness in the city, there's a readiness for this to be a melting pot, there's a readiness for people who have been in the neighborhoods who have either been silenced or felt marginalized to have a chance to be a part of this story.
What really excites me is that I've been hearing about the riot or the uprising since I was a child, but never did I have an understanding of what it really meant and how we got there, and I think there’s a lot of other people who need to understand why it matters to them, and if people are going to really come together, if we're really going to take away the division, the Old Detroit versus the New Detroit, if we're really going to get people to step up and embrace it—not only new people coming in, but understanding the challenges and the fact that people held the city together for years—we have to have a baseline of understanding, and the Detroit Historical Society, whose mission is to tell Detroit’s stories and why they matter, really helps bring that together and the exhibition will be our crescendo. The world is watching, we can provide lessons in leadership for how a city has been resilient for so many different years and been able to come back over and over again, but more than anything, how do we make this a comeback story that everyone can feel in touch, and more than anything, it starts with the story. Everyone has a story to tell. That excites me. We don't want to lose any stories in this.
I think this positions us well to show the rest of the world what we're made of. Instead of operating from a position of weakness or scarcity, we need to start operating from a position of strength and abundance, and there's a lot of abundance in the history behind this story. We can show others how they too can realize that the biggest commodity that you have in the metropolitan area is the people and their heartbeats. The heartbeat is what matters most in this story, but sometimes it's hard to get to that heartbeat if you're blocked by a lot of history, that may not be so good, or people don't have a chance to share, or they're in an environment where they don't feel comfortable, whether it's the Legacy Detroit, who needs to tell what really happened to them and how they felt so long, or the New Detroit, who doesn't want to have a level of guilt or shame about what they did or didn't do. Eliminating the finger pointing. It gets you nowhere, and I think we can show people that in spite of all of we've gone through, the division, the conditions that are real, they still exist, people are struggling, there’s still a lot of high poverty, crime, there’s a lot, but then on the other side, we’re not starting from scratch, and we’re not a blank canvas, and people need to recognize that at the end of the day, how do we bring people together?
A lot of communities, whether it be in New York, or California, or even in Paris, people need to come together around the effects of something that was damaging. Something bad happened here, and we have to recognize that. Reconcile, give people a voice, and figure out four things: how do we help people listen, be heard, participate, and then connect them to others who can help them take action, so they can start having more control over their own futures and the future of this city? That excites me. It gets me pumped up, because the story has to be told.
UI: What do you hope to get as a result? Like, what do you hope to see from people both in the region and outside the region, in the neighborhoods and nationally? Is it that, you know, we have the opportunity to be example, the expression starts to be ‘like Detroit,’ they want to do something like Detroit, we want to grow like Detroit, we want race relations like Detroit which totally turns the tables on where we are now.
MS: For me, the most important thing, or the most important word is relevance. There's a relevance of this story everywhere you go. We have to find a way for everyone to see themselves in the story. There's no single source of truth here, there's multiple perspectives and that's the way the world is set up. If you look at Detroit, we represent a microcosm of what's happening not just across America, but across the world. The biggest thing that we struggle with as human beings is how people get divided up, and so what Detroit is trying to do is show that in one of the worst case scenarios, a city was able to continue to grow and go.
For a lot of people, ’67 may have been the end of the story, but for others it was the beginning. You’re talking about a post-bankruptcy Detroit, who’s still licking its wounds and the rest of the world is watching. We always say that it always starts here in Detroit, and I believe that. We’re a classroom for the rest of the world, and people can learn from the things that we did right, the things that we didn't do right. People can learn from how we're trying to reconcile, people can learn for how we attack four key areas and make sure people are talking about them and doing something about them, and that's economic inclusion and opportunity, race relations, youth development and youth leadership, and then lastly, advancement of neighborhoods. We believe that those four things don’t represent everything that's broken or everything that needs to be addressed, but are at the core of the conversation, and we want people to think about what they can be doing at an individual level, at an organizational level, and at a community level. Engage, activate, and mobilize. What we're not saying is that the Detroit Historical Society is going to solve world peace or take on social justice. We have over a hundred community partners who are experts in these areas who are saying, Yes, this is our story, our Detroit. What we're doing is setting the stage, convening, and this can happen in any metropolitan area if you find a way to help people engage, reflect, and act.
One of the most important aspects of this—as you know, we're looking back and we're talking about moving forward—but the most important thing to a lot of people is what happens today, helping people find their voice today, helping people find their relevance today, helping people connect to projects and activities that they can feel good about that has a strong utility in their life today, and more than anything is giving people an understanding of why it matters to them today. Whether you're the young college kid who moved from Berkeley to Detroit, whether you're the traditional legacy Detroiter who's been around, who’ve seen it all and wondering when my time is going to come. Whether it’s generational, racial, geographical barriers that exist, we still want everybody to have a chance to talk it out. Dialogue is important, rebuilding trust is important, right? But more than anything, how do you bring people together? What we can't promise is that race relations will get better. We can promise that we can bring people together to talk about race relations. What we can promise is that those who engage in this project will understand where we've been, where we are today, and more than anything, the role they can play in where we're going.