Photo by Brad Ziegler.
Photo by Brad Ziegler.
I was fortunate. I had good friends, good family, and my mother. My Detroit upbringing took place mere blocks from the heart of downtown, right next to the grass-blanketed railroad tracks that became the Dequindre Cut. My preschool and elementary, middle, and high schools were all along East Lafayette Street, short distances from my home. I traveled back and forth through a neighborhood that was not without problems, but was safe and filled with stores, parks, restaurants, theaters, and a general liveliness any residential area ought to possess.
I was fortunate. I recall my mom’s not-so-subtle devotion to U-M and her certainty I would one day be a Wolverine. Though she graduated from University of Detroit Mercy, her passion for U-M’s football team and Maize and Blue paraphernalia rivaled any Michigan alumna’s. Along with her instilling in me that school came first, she and those around me assumed that U-M was my destiny. When I received a full-tuition scholarship to U-M, it was as if fate chimed in with a “Yep.”
There was no fate. I gained opportunities because of my mom, the support around me, and my circumstances.
But others are not so fortunate. I could have been born a Detroiter from popular culture’s idea of the city and its people. A Detroiter from a bleak ghetto with unkempt fields, living between blighted buildings and underserved neighborhoods. The parents might have had as much love to give as my mother, and the children as much potential as I possessed, but there would have been little way out. I could have been a Detroiter for whom a U-M aspiration would be a Herculean task.
I did not learn that U-M’s first building stood near Bates and Congress in the early 1800s until I began working at Michigan Alumnus magazine in 2015. Until I took my first campus tour, my personal experience with U-M consisted of the Go Blue garb, a name on a scholarship form, college recruiters, and the exterior of the U-M Detroit Center (photo left), which opened the same year I graduated from high school.
To be sure, I wasn’t looking, or even aware in my youth, of all the U-M programs and alumni in Detroit working hard to help better everything from health care to education. Nevertheless, as an adult and U-M alumnus, I now want to promote all the University does for my city.
Today, there are many more U-M partnerships with Detroit institutions, earnestly supporting a number of ongoing initiatives in the city. There are alumni in the city who contributed when times were the toughest and are working now during the resurgence to bring educational and economic opportunities to all. And, of course, there are the uniquely Detroit cultural offerings that Wolverines bring to life every year through their participation.
That is why we developed this issue of Michigan Alumnus—to share these stories about Detroit. I know U-M wants to be a realistic aspiration for Detroit kids who are not as lucky as I was. That work is ongoing and challenging, but when it pays off and more and more Detroit kids come to U-M, it will not just feel inspiring, it will feel historic, as they come from U-M’s birthplace.
We should all be so fortunate.
Gregory Lucas-Myers, ’10, is assistant editor of Michigan Alumnus.