At the beginning of this internship, my knowledge of Detroit did not go far beyond statistics and stereotypes. I knew, generally, that Detroit was not necessarily abundant with opportunities that make it easy for its youth to access the resources that they need to pursue their goals. But I still had a lot to learn.
My surface level knowledge about the needs of Detroit youth was what led me to apply to be a FATE mentor last fall. I have always valued community empowerment, and was confident that my participation in the FATE program would allow me to help provide Detroit youth with the educational and professional opportunities that they may have otherwise been lacking. Looking back, I ask myself, how well did I actually know the community that I intended to help?
Throughout the course of the internship, we have gone on various “exposure” trips that have taken us through all neighborhoods of Detroit. These experiences included a trip to explore the businesses in Eastern Market, grabbing a bite to eat at local food vendors, sitting down and having conversations with professionals in the community, and much more. Through such outings, I felt myself gain a deeper understanding of the city of Detroit. Even further, I began to realize what it means to truly enter and understand a community, beyond just the surface level.
These visits allowed me to shift my focus from generalizations to individuals. With each exposure, I was able to meet individual residents of the city, all with specific passions and purposes within their community. For example, when we visited the Heidelberg Project, we conversed with its creator, Tyree Guyton, about the meaning behind his artwork. Or, when we visited The Commons, we got to experience a space that exists with the purpose of bringing together the community. Each destination had its own inspiring story, a small niche within this huge city. And each individual was so full with a strong sense of purpose, and passion for what they do.
Through experiences such as these, I now understand the community not as a varying list of statistics that need fixing, but as a community made up of unique individuals--each with their own purpose, and their own story. After these various exposure trips, full of real conversations and real presence in the pinnacles of the Detroit community, I now feel that I understand the city on a much more intimate level.
Granted, it is true that you can never truly understand a community unless you are a part of it. But knowledge of a community goes so much further than just knowing the basic facts that define it. If you want to enter a community and work towards empowering its youth, you have to dive deeper.
This intimate knowledge that I have gained along the way has complimented my work on the various projects during the internship and made it much stronger. For example, this summer, we have been working to develop various marketing strategies to expand and diversify our mentorship base. Specifically, we have recreated the marketing materials for business professional recruitment, developed a roster of local businesses to flyer at, and developed a long-term plan to expand our recruitment efforts for student mentors. In doing all of this, my knowledge of the city of Detroit made it easier to understand these projects, and do them more efficiently and effectively. I believe that my deep knowledge of the demographic that we are marketing to and the city as a whole has made my work throughout the internship much more meaningful and effective. Overall, my internship experience as a whole has been made much more fruitful by the exposure that I have gained to this city.
- Grace Dellorto, Summer 2019 Give Merit Intern