NPR logo Taking Detroit Into Their Own Hands

Editor's Pick

Taking Detroit Into Their Own Hands

Editor's Note: Erica Yoon is an intern in NPR's multimedia department. She recently spent time in Detroit for a school project and offers this reflection.

I am an outsider to Detroit. And until recently, I'll admit, the place I imagined was shaped by a lot of assumptions. To me it was a city defined by riots, politics and the automobile industry crisis. But all of that changed when I went there for a school project last fall — and began listening to people's stories.

Like Malik Yakini, founder and executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. He showed me how, exactly, self-determination can help mitigate some of the challenges faced by the city's residents. Kadiri Sennefer, also a Detroit native who works alongside Yakini at D-Town Farm, agrees:

Kadiri Sennefer, a native of Detroit, is a farm manager at D-Town Farms. Sennefer has been with the farm since it relocated to West Outer Drive in Detroit in 2008. Erica Yoon hide caption

toggle caption
Erica Yoon

"We don't have it easy. Yet we continue to push forward ... in the midst of what everything that they're saying about Detroit," he says, "there's prosperity and abundance and a great deal of it flowing through Detroit."

Despite the challenges, I learned, there are real signs of resilience in Detroit. All of the people I met wanted me to know this.

Urban gardening became my portal into the vast network of community organization around the city. I wanted to examine whether Detroit's deeply rooted economic strain could really be untangled by hands in the soil. After a while, though, it was about much more than growing vegetables.

Gardening alone might not fix the city, but it's one part of a larger network of people — the music scene, grassroots movements, new educational programs — working toward a common goal. Change won't happen overnight, but there's still momentum.

"I like to believe that we [are] holding this place together," Sennefer says. "You know, we the people that are the visionaries, the dreamers, the people that's holding on to the faith that things aren't as bad as they seem."

Article continues after sponsorship

An outsider may look at Detroit's empty buildings and see abandoned hope. But to plenty of the city's residents, they represent opportunity.