On August 6th, my parents “moved out” (after spending the past week with me) and for the first time in my life, I became an independent adult. I live in my own house, by my own self, in a quiet neighborhood on the East Side of Detroit.
I’ve only been here for a little while - I spent the majority of my summer in Chicago for “Institute” training with Teach for America. However, one cannot come into a city like Detroit without preconceived notions of what it is like or in the very least, what stereotypes and assumptions need to be avoided and clarified.
Here’s a very brief and ambiguous attempt at letting you all in on a little secret about D-Town from a newcomer: It is everything people say it is, and it is so much more in the very same dimension.
Out of Money and Past Her Prime?
The first point is obvious: Detroit is a city that is currently going through the bankruptcy process and a Mayoral Election. You can read about it here, here, and here.
Because of the city’s downfall the past 40 (er..50? 60?) years, it is unique in both turmoil and beauty. Driving down the city streets with my parents left them in shock - home after home, store after store, building after building, are boarded up, in shambles, or burnt to the ground.
The national average for first-responders is about 10 minutes. Detroit sits at about 58 minutes. Process that for a minute. Because of the lack of funding, manpower, and equipment, many places that are abandoned and catch fire (or other damage) are left to become another scar on Detroit’s image.
But scars make our history beautiful.
Beauty in Ashes
In the midst of the tragedy, beauty arises. The Heidelberg Project, spearheaded by Tyree Guyton (founder and artistic director), uses “everyday, discarded objects to create a two block area full of color, symbolism, and intrigue.” It has been around for 27 years, and its motif of unique - and almost awkward - modern art still matches the classic feel of MoTown and its glorious past.
Unlike other Midwest cities (here’s looking to you Cleveland), Detroit (at least from everything I’ve read and everyone I’ve talked to) is not in denial about her current state. The defining characteristic that separates the people of my new hometown and other cities is pride, drive, and a desire to once again matter. No one wants to throw in the towel. Not one…single…person.
Sports Are Everything
In the greatest sports city in America, most bars and restaurants will always have 1 of the following blasted on their screens: The Red Wings, The Red Wings, The Tigers, The Tigers, The Pistons, and The Lions. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen anything else on T.V. here.
Want proof that The D is dominated by sportscentrism? Consider this: Detroit has hosted The Super Bowl, the most viewed sporting event (and one of the most watched TV shows of the year) two more times than New York City and Chicago. (The other cities: a combined 0).
The Detroit Free Press
Somehow, someway, the Detroit Free Press (Freep) has overcome all odds and is still one of the most awarded, highest ranked, and successful newspapers in the country. Recently, they were nominated for 7 Emmy’s. How a city that has a depopulation rate of 25% (1 person in every 22 minutes) from 2000-2010, yet still has a strong enough subscription base to grow is the perfect analogy to Detroit. Detroit hustles harder.
Detroit Hustles Harder
As I mentioned above, the people of Detroit have a mentality that reflects the overall efforts of the city: Hustle Harder.
Very rarely will a conversation about this city with any of the fine citizens who call Detroit home lead to a woeful, self-indulgent, misery-filled diatribe. Instead, they are openly reflective, honest, and positive about the next chapter. Whether it’s the young, hip, artistic movement, or the older generations of factory workers and blue-collared workers, there is a sense of realistic optimism in this city.
“We may never become the Detroit of old…but we won’t give up until tomorrow’s future is bright for the next generation.”
This city goes hard.
Tomorrow Will Be Kinder
While the city’s optimism is focussed on tomorrow, there is no reason to settle for that. Many of MoTown are instead putting all their chips on the table now. Dan Gilbert, owner of Quicken Loans, has poured his own money into the city, now owning 7.6 million square feet in property to run his Quicken Empire.
Kevyn Orr, love him or hate him, is doing his best to resurrect the city the same way he Chrysler after the 2009 fallout in the auto industry.
Blue Cross-Blue Shield has “come home” because they are “Proud to be Home in the D.”
Demystifying the UnCruel Reality
In general, Detroit is actually growing.
The Auto Industry is up 13% in sales since 2011. On top of that, the Chinese auto automakers and parts suppliers are moving into the city.
12 Fortune 500 Companies call Detroit home.
There is a 68% increase in hotel stays from 2011-2012 (which means people are actually coming to Detroit).
5 of Brand Innovators 25 Startups to Watch are located in Detroit, including 5-hour Energy.
Crime is decreasing according to the FBI.
Indeed… “BElieve THEre is GOOD in Detroit”
Matthew Fier is a Teach for America corps member working at Burns Elementary in Detroit. A recent graduate from Biola University in Southern California, Fier primarily blogs about what it looks like to live on mission as a follower of Jesus. For more information click here.
Editors Note: This was written in the weeks preceding graduation. I am just now posting it because I was lazy, tired, and a little nervous. Here is my final post as a Biola Student.
You’ll have to forgive me. Forgive me for not writing often enough. Forgive me for writing this post in a few different sittings. Forgive me because it will be full of nostalgia and bittersweet goodbyes. Forgive me because this will hit some cheesy chords. Forgive me because this post won’t be enough no matter how long or how precise the words are displayed.
“You can’t repeat the past.” Nick, The Great Gatsby
Let me start by telling you that my dream for the last decade, biblical or not, has been to live a life that mirrors a combination of Jay Gatsby and Hitch. It seems beyond fitting that Gatsby has been released during the final weeks of my enrollment at Biola University.
I’ve long lived a life that is full of hopeless-romanticism, obsessive passions, and a façade that only a few break through to see my wretched and always-needing-grace soul.
When I first came to Biola four years ago, I used to tell people that I would leave Biola on my own terms. I would come in like a ball of fire, blazing trails, forcing my way into prominence…and I would leave quietly when no one was looking, driving up Highway 1 with the windows down and Dashboard Confessionals blaring, and the sun was battling the horizon for space. *Note I didn’t have a car yet, so this was a pretty bold statement.* *Second Note: you should laugh at the humor in the previous note.*
Four years later, I feel that I’m finally able to say I have accomplished (and often times failed) at what I needed to attempt here in Southern California. I can finally leave on my own terms, not being forced out nor desiring to leave. Simply put, it is simply time to move on.
I want to list the memories, the pictures, the songs that represent the playlist of my life: all the late nights with my friends, the time we went skinny-dipping in the rain, the dates that didn’t work out, the road trips, the sin-filled mistakes, the adventures to Hollywood, the classes, times of prayer, times of worship, the grace-covered growth, and the one time I fell in love and didn’t even know it until I was nearly all the way out the door.
But words can’t capture the emotions that reside inside my heart and mind, the ones I think about late at night when I’m sitting on my deck, teary eyed and worn down. It’s not that I will miss college as much as it is I know this time of my life is ending. I’m about to go to a city that is long forgotten, disappearing into a sea of faces that won’t know me, into the rest of my life which won’t be anything like college. (Note 3: I’m completely okay with the rest of my life not being like college).
The cheesiness that comes with saying “I’ll miss the people” is too much to bear, albeit completely accurate. If it weren’t for the people, the friendships, the enemies, I wouldn’t have made it. So what do I say?
It’s gone by way too fast
Part of my soul feels like it’s dying, in all the good ways but in all the sad ways too. My friends will get married, have children, buy homes, climb the ladder, serve Jesus, some will be famous, some won’t make it past 25, others will run into trouble, others will wash out. That’s just life.
Let Things Be
I have a secret spot down here, where I like to go and “Let Things Be” (Rose is Rose comics reference anyone?). I go there on the anniversary of Rachel’s death, when I fail a test, when my heart breaks, when I’m angry, when I’m joyful, and all the times I go to pray. Right before finals, I passed my secret spot into the hands and heart of someone who means a lot, who I love dearly, who won’t take it for granted. When we went down there together, to share memories and say goodbye for maybe the last time, I knew I had officially finished packing up my heart. Even when you don’t say all the things you probably should, love, it its infinite form of presence and power, says it all.
Damned if you don’t
So, I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. I’m trying to say goodbye. But I can’t, because I’ve never been any damn good at it.
I’m trying to say I love you, but I can’t, because I’ve never been any damn good at that either.
I’m trying to say I’ll miss you, that you’ll always be apart of my heart, that I’ll probably never find another like you, but I can’t do that, because I’m the one who writes posts about Never Say Never.
Like Jay, like Hitch, I’ll keep writing my story with the pen that’s become good at facades that are just as real as they’re supposed to look, because I’m a firm believer facades eventually consume who we are.
While I live out my fantasy of denial, I suppose I’ll always look back and think well of Biola. I am never one to miss the past, but I do cherish it. I’ll keep looking forward; I’ll keep looking for a way to say what I need to say. I know that I won’t find another, I can’t replace you, and most importantly I know…
You can’t repeat the past.
Live, Love, Eat Cheesecake…and Feel. My. Pulse.
So whether you read this as an analogy and an ode to Biola University, my SoCal (I said it, yes I said SoCal) family, the memories and mistakes, the good times and bad, or whether you see this as perhaps, just maybe, this is an analogy written deeply into the seams of my heart about so much more, read it and feel my pulse.
And one last thing:
It’s okay to fall in love and it is most certainly okay if they don’t love you back. Sometimes, that’s how the chips fall, that’s how the cards are dealt, but know that it isn’t because Jesus doesn’t love your nor does it mean that you aren’t good enough (although, never think you are finally good enough).
And it’s okay if your love has to be hidden…love is a violent weapon of truth, goodness, and grace, but sometimes it can be a weapon of destruction in our humanity.
That’s all I have (that’s a lie, I just can’t handle any more cheesy emotional advice).
So, here we go, back to my (er, I guess hers now!) secret spot to catch one more sunset, pray one more time, listen to the waves one more time, and be alone one more time before I’m alone very much of the time in Detroit.
Soon, if you listen close, you may hear my music and screams of joy out my car window as I drive up North for the final…trip…home.
Below is a speech I recently gave to my class about storytelling, our stories, and how Jesus redeems it all. As the fourth anniversary of the death of Rachel Daggett occurred last Sunday, December 9th, I’m reminded that even in tragedy, Jesus is always working.
I had a previous speech written up on why we should care about the achievement gap. But then I realized that as passionate as I am to helping inner city school children, this will be my last speech in our Comm. 100 and subsequently, this will be my last opportunity to persuade you about anything. Today I want to tell you why telling stories matters, and why being an effective communicator can literally change the course of history. I hope that by the end of my speech, you will realize that we are called to be storytellers, and that our stories matter. I will go over three points: how stories can capture attention, how stories can quickly change directions, and ultimately, how story telling can save lives.
“I once knew a girl with girl with the bluest of eyes, the brightest of smiles, and the emptiest of hearts.” Beginning a story can gain attention like no other. You can instantly gain credibility and the attentive ears of your audience. Geoff Livingstone, author and public speaker known for his book, “Welcome to the Fifth Estate” describes this as the “personification method of story telling.” He says, “Well executed, the person and their audience can share experiences together.” By starting off my story with the overture of love, most of you can instantly relate to a Jr. high or high school love story. Or Taylor Swift songs. By gaining attention for the right reasons, we can use our stories to change the direction of our audience.
“Her name was Rachel. Rachel cursed like a sailor and was thirsty for truth. She had a jolly and obnoxious laugh, and she sat next to me in my 5th period economics class.” Stories, as I just mentioned, have an usual way to change directions very quickly. In the Bible, Joseph and Mary had a pretty typical story. Joseph was to be married to Mary, be a good husband and future dad, work hard and be a good Jew. But the story changes. “The angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child will be born and will be called holy – the Son of God.’” You see, just like Mary and Joseph, stories with unusual plot changes can help us realize that indeed, our personal lives aren’t unusual – and as our lives turn and twist, sometimes tragically, we can relate. As Pastor Tim Chaddick of Reality LA said at a College Conference last January, “We must realize the importance of our identity…and realize that it changed the moment we accepted Jesus into our lives.”Our stories change, and it’s important we recognize change and call it as it is in our storytelling. If we can recognize change, we can realize our storytelling can literally change lives.
“Rachel always had questions about the Bible, even saying, “I don’t know if I believe, but I know the verses you share make me feel better. Make my day seem like it’s worth it.” Indeed, story telling can change lives. You see, Rachel was a classmate of mine. We did indeed sit together in economics. The girl was a hurricane, a culture shock, and the most loveable human being I ever met. But she didn’t know Jesus. And I’m going to tell you now the rest of this story, and why my storytelling mattered and still matters. I went to a public high school with one of the worst drug problems in the state of Oregon. Rachel was a big time drug user crushing up prescription pain pills known as oxycodone and smoking them through tin foil. And every class she asked me, begged me, to send her verses and to take her to church. I could see the pain in her eyes but my own selfish pride and fear were more evident in mine. I knew my story at the time was a joke. I promised Rachel I would take her but my shame wouldn’t let me. The story Rachel needed to hear was that God loved her so much he came and died so she wouldn’t have to. She needed to see that from my life, but the truth is, my life was a wreck. I was choosing a lifestyle with my teammates and friends that didn’t show I loved or followed Jesus. I was living in sin with my girlfriend at the time, being a stupid 18-year-old boy. So instead of sharing my story with Rachel, I took her trust and put it in my back pocket. And subsequently, she became apart of my story. I remember it was November of 2008, and I told my friend Aaron that Rachel would come to our church retreat a few months later, find Jesus, and change our drug culture forever. I’ll never forget that on December 9th, four years ago last Sunday, he called me. And he said three words I’ll never forget: “Matt…….Rachel died.”
Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church recently said, “The genealogy of Jesus includes Bathsheba to show that God can work through our mistakes and our sin.” just like us, Jesus’ story involved a lot of sin-filled people. But he didn’t stop telling his story. I want you guys to know as I close up, that not a day goes by where I don’t somehow think about Rachel. That I wish I had known these facts about story telling. Because instead of being apart of my story, Jesus could have used mine in hers. That my sin hindered and perhaps ultimately deterred her from knowing Him. I want to encourage you guys and let you know that no matter where you are coming from: sexual sin, sexual addictions, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, abusive parents, sexual abuse, anger, pride, anything and everything. That Jesus died for you, so you don’t have to. There is no shame in the Gospel. So don’t live in fear, but live in outspoken humility because your story matters. Thank you.