It Takes A Village to Build A City

Like many Detroiters, Amanda Rosman’s story actually started outside the city limits.

“I grew up in the suburbs and moved to Detroit in 1999, when I was 22. I had just finished college on the east coast and arrived back home without much of a plan. While staying with my mom, I started helping out the famous Detroit photographer Ameen Howrani, a close family friend, at his studio. One day we were driving around the city, and he took me on a walkthrough of one of the lofts he rented out in the Eastern Market. I fell in love with it and moved into the first available unit. In that space, I came to know a community of long-time residents, artists, students, small business owners and elders. That was it — I was home.”

As time went on, her commitment to the city and the people dedicated to seeing it thrive deepened. She had stumbled on a community seeking anything but the easy road — individuals who had come to and stayed in Detroit for a myriad of personal reasons, but were now united by a common cause.

“Most people I have come to know over the last two decades in Detroit did not show up expecting to be presented with a pretty packaged lifestyle. I think many people in Detroit believe that we cannot rely on others to fix things but rather that, ‘we are the leaders we are looking for.’ The people I spend time with are here because they have been for many years; they kept things together when the rest of the world used Detroit as a punch line, and because they wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves by coming together with their neighbors to build community.”

Indeed, the opportunity of building something not just for oneself, but collaborating with a like-minded community to make a deep and lasting impact, is perhaps the most unique and alluring aspect of Detroit life. But behind that romantic vision are the sometimes-harsh realities of living in a city that’s still in recovery.

“Like many Detroiters, I have a love-hate relationship with the city. It is not always easy to live here. But every day of living here has meaning. The way people support one another and the way the ideas of work and community are being reimagined here make Detroit feel like the most important place on earth. It sounds corny, but there is so much love in this city. An overwhelming majority of the people I know here have rejected a life of high pay and creature comforts to do powerful, meaningful community work in Detroit, and they are truly fed by it. It wouldn’t make sense to many on paper; you just have to see it for yourself.”

Of course, the city is a far cry from what it was when Amanda moved here in 1999. And though no one can deny the positive outcomes of that growth and change, the steady influx of new people, places and things over the last two decades has, for many long-time Detroiters, taken a toll on some of what they love most about their home.

“I feel like there is room for everyone here, but it is frustrating when certain people or groups come here and treat the city like their own playground, showing disregard for the historical context of the city or the people living around them. While the revamping of downtown is a necessary step forward, I get both angry and nervous when I hear people say Detroit is “coming back.”

Those feelings are due, in part, to a significant unmet need that Amanda and many other Detroiters know looms just beyond the sheen of recently revitalized parts of town.

“The ‘Two Detroits’ narrative is at the same time tired and accurate. Outside of downtown, the neighborhoods — [which is] 95% of Detroit’s land — are sorely neglected, and people either haven’t taken the time to understand that, or simply don’t care. Like many Detroiters, I also don’t want to “go back” to what Detroit used to be — reliance on industry has led us to the current situation, and we need to rethink what makes us strong in order to move forward.”

Those frustrations haven’t tarnished her love for the city though. In fact, it might be part what inspired her career trajectory.

“I taught in Detroit schools for 11 years and then co-founded the James and Grace Lee Boggs School: A small, community-based K-8 school on the near east side of the city, where I currently serve as Executive Director. Our mission is to nurture creative, critical thinkers who contribute to the well-being of their communities. Together, our students, staff, families and community members are ‘growing our souls’ and striving to be our best, most human selves. We believe we are educating the future leaders (in all the ways that can look) of Detroit.”

She’s taken on that mission at home too, instilling the same sense of history, community and pride that made her a Detroit lover, in her own son.

“My ‘village’ and I are co-raising a teenage son who loves this city and has told me he wouldn’t live anywhere else – I believe he will in some way use his life to support the work that is going on here. As Grace Lee Boggs often said, in Detroit, ‘This is a great time to be alive.’”

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