On October 8th, 2009 I read an article authored by Detroit Freepress journalist Rochelle Riley on the lack of African-American males called upon to join the “Save The City” committee. What started as a thoughtful response turned into a tear inducing heart wrenching mea culpa for leaving a city I loved that needed to call upon every citizen to help keep it from falling apart. Rochelle received over 1000 emails for her piece, and knowing the likelihood of her responding to mine was small, decided to post it on my blog for all to read.
My name is Craig Daitch, and for 30 of the 34 years I’ve been alive, I have been a resident of Detroit.
Though I’d like to continue this letter speaking in the present tense, I won’t been able to do so because unfortunately I no longer live in metro Detroit.
A part of the mass exodus caused by the economy, I chose to take a job in New York three years ago. Heartbroken, my wife, 2 year old daughter and I left colleagues, friends and family behind all the while asking ourselves the rhetorical question “Why is this happening?”. When we arrived in the New York area, I quickly realized that there are a few of us Detroiters out here, anonymous in a city that doesn’t understand our idiosyncrasies. So you could imagine the relief one feels when finding a stranger wearing a Tigers hat, or a Red Wings shirt walking down Broadway or when you get home from work to find a Vernors care package from parents. And don’t get me started on the near emotional breakdown I felt when a quiet woman approached me on the Newark train platform, pointed to my J. Dilla t-shirt and said “he changed my life too.”
Here on the east coast, it doesn’t matter if you grew up on Joy Road or Long Lake Road. The comradeship felt knowing of the shared experiences that were connected by a love for a city outweighs any prejudices, generalizations or other outlandish stereotypes associated with the current suburban/city boundaries.
I will concede that my perspective on the city is unique amongst my circle of friends, who for the most part, have lived their lives in Detroit’s suburbs. Like many parents, my father, found it difficult to recover from the riots and stay committed to living inside Detroit’s city limits. The emotional scars of watching as the national guard turned his front yard into a battleground certainly affected him, and with that, when my brothers and I were born, his silent oath of over-protectiveness relegated our city experiences to annual trips to the North American International Autoshow. We were never given a true sample of Detroit culture outside of a coney dog and the occasional Tigers game.
This changed when I decided to finish school at Wayne. Instantly the bleakness of the city dissipated while being exposed to the beautiful multicultural pockets that surrounded the city.
My passion for Detroit continued past graduation, when I joined a Detroit based technology start up that set up shop in Greektown. I was fortunate enough to have witnessed the renaissance Mayor Archer brought to the city, spending nights in Harmony Park and my weekends at the DIA, going from feeling completely out of place to a vocal advocate of the city. Some of my most vivid memories:
- Having worked at Lafayette and Beaubien, I’d marvel daily, peering out my window while watching the progress of the Greektown Casino being built.
- Remembering Ford Field being constructed, and sitting on a step outside the Chameleon Cafe (a Detroit treasure long gone) sharing a laugh and a couple strawberry banana smoothies with Gil Hill. That was the beauty of the city – everyone was accessible regardless of age, occupation, race or social class.
- Discovering the Charles Wright museum for the first time.
I continued to stay committed to Detroit, incorporating my new media marketing agency in the city and taking residence in Smart Detroit. I felt the momentum of the city could carry my company and my vision to the stratosphere.
But then we hit a wall. Mayor Archer, whose hard work and collaborative spirit won us the Superbowl, and the Tournament, parted ways from political office. In his wake, we were left with the vibrant, youthful and ultimately criminally petulant, Kwame Kilpatrick.
I used to scoff at every speech he gave that ended with “I love you Detroit.”, not because I didn’t find him credible, for some strange reason I did. But I believed he loved himself more. I also believe if he were allowed to run for mayor again, he’d win, regardless of his sociopath-like tendencies that were boldly on display during his farewell speech.
By the time the blackberry black eye made its way to main stream news, I was gone. And while the city gasped for breath with the hands of city council’s corruption wrapped firmly around its neck, I sat in my Manhattan office with pangs of guilt, instant messaging friends across the United States with ties to the region who felt the same as I did: helpless.
To reiterate, I’m not the only one. Bonds forged in my new surroundings with other indigenous, displaced Detroiters reveals a feeling I can only describe as extreme panic to help the city recover. Some nights I’d walk to the subway depressed thinking about the friends I left behind. Other nights, enraged, wondering if because the demise of Detroit transpired over 5 decades verses the 5 weeks of a post New Orleans Katrina, the economic disaster my beloved city continues to face could never fully win the hearts and determination of those outside our own to fix the damage. Man made disaster always seems to concede to mother nature unfortunately and I couldn’t envision Brad Pitt pleeing with the Red Cross to help.
Which is equally part of the problem. We’re in denial. Current Detroiters who swear at Mayor Bing for delivering the cold realities of an ever shrinking city population. And me, a former 3 decade resident for continually thinking this is nothing but a correctional mistake that Detroit can recover from.
So while I understand your disappointment in the Committee To Save Detroit’s absence of African American males, I implore you to look past race and work as diligently as possible to be their voice. The perception of our city to those who reside outside of it is overwhelmingly negative, that is obviously not a secret. A wedge between those who were called upon verses those who volunteer to bring the city back to respectability should not be derailed due to the insinuations of race playing a role in leadership. May I respectfully remind you that this is the time to shun those inferring, qualm those who grumble and remind sternly that we are all in this together. As Detroit falls, so does its surrounding cities.
At the time of me writing this email, I am on a plane returning from a business trip. I have thought introspectively between pauses in typing as to how I can help the city of Detroit recover and I think back to the metaphors long forgotten that symbolize the statue which represents the spirit of Detroit.
Be it book drives to buy students the learning materials they need, or writing letters such as this one that I hope finds its way to press, I will work as tirelessly on the outside as the courageous do within the city’s walls and I encourage others to do the same.
You Rochelle have a tremendous gift – the power of the press. And while the world of print media has its struggles it was your article that found its way to me online while waiting to board my plane, 1000 miles away, that compelled me to write you this letter and make a promise to help so I can come back proud of the city I never wanted to leave.
My name is Craig Daitch and I am an ex-Detroiter but I’ll never abandon Detroit.