Home is where the heart is

Posted January 20, 2008 2:22 pm (about 4390 days ago)

I recently returned from a week long visit back to Detroit, my former home town, and it was a mixed bag. With the economy the way it is in Michigan, it’s no wonder that it’s an easy target for the detractors. Yet I also left Detroit reminded of why I miss it so much.

I recently returned from a week long visit back to Detroit, my former home town, and it was a mixed bag. With the economy the way it is in Michigan, it’s no wonder that it’s an easy target for the detractors. I’ve never seen so many homes for sale, even in rich  neighborhoods like Palmer Woods.  Plus it’s winter so everything looks gray and too many parts of Detroit look liked bombed out war zones; not that this is anything new. In spite of all that, there are still condos being built and the casinos are running strong. I have to admit that I have noticed a lot of development in Detroit, but I don’t get the impression that it benefits actual Detroiters as much as it does outsiders. I hate to play into the whole city versus suburbs divide since I actually like many of the suburbs, but gentrification shouldn’t be romanticized.

Now that I got some of the negative out of the way, I also left Detroit reminded of why I miss it so much. There are dynamic people there doing great things. During my short visit I barely got any rest. Here are some of the highlights:

Detroit Summer/LAMP visit Submerge: My girl Ilana “Invincible” Weaver is famous around the world for her skills as an MC, but our connection is through her activism with young people. The first thing I did when I got to Detroit was to observe her bring a  group of youth to the Submerge record distribution company in the New Center Area. Submerge is the number one distributor of Detroit electronic music and has a strong social justice approach to their business. Underground Resistance (UR) Records’ label manager Cornelius “Atlantis” Harris spent hours giving a behind the scenes tour of the facility, which includes a museum, record store, and mail-order facility. Submerge/UR head Mike Banks also took time to share some words about being an entrepreneur and taking initiative. At so many levels visits such as these destroy a million stereotypes about hip hop, Detroit, race, youth, and other maligned identities. Countless people from around the world (literally) would’ve loved to have received the tour that these youth experienced. Kudos to all who were involved!

The Charles W. Wright Museum of African American History:

I know the Detroit Institute of Art has been getting a lot of press lately but I was pressed for time and one of my students from California was visiting to Detroit so I was only able to show him this other Detroit gem. I haven’t been in years and was  highly impressed. The temporary exhibits on the Black church and Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) sorority were impressive, especially since I haven’t always been the most enthralled with the church or Greek organizations. The highlight was the permanent exhibit, which includes a replica of a slave ship. It was disturbing, to say the least, yet powerful and uplifting as you walk through the rest of the exhibit. If you come to Detroit, this should definitely be on your short list of places to visit.

DJ Graffiti/DJ Marquis/DJ Nasty: All have 10+ years in the music game and continue to go strong. They’re not the only ones in Detroit of course, but they’re ones I’ve maintained friendships with and one thing they all have in common is their ability to evolve and adapt to the times. Graffiti is truly a hip-hop renaissance man and a legitimate businessman. Check out his website. He successfully bridges the streets with the corporate suits. Marquis remains the first and only DJ that I’m aware of in Detroit that mixes with DVDs, and Nasty is flooding I-Tunes with remixes after making his mark selling vinyl. Some of our peers haven’t done as well so it was good to see these fellas still holding it down.

University of Michigan:
OK, so I’m not always the hugest fan of it as an institution, but it opened up countless opportunities for me and allowed me to make some lifelong friendships. While I only worked there for a short time, the Program on InterGroup Relations had a prfound effect on me and continues to go strong. I still consider the core to be good friends of mine and we continue to have good times together, even on this trip. Professionally speaking, their approach to social justice issues has greatly influenced my career as a teacher. Also, U of M recently started a chapter of the Hip Hop Congress and is hosting a large conference soon, featuring many old friends, including my boy Khalid’s Motor City Hip Hop Revue (I DJed this event back in ’99 or so with The Last Poets and Detroit’s Most Wanted!), and Invincible. Big shout out to Amer, Dre, and Kasey for all of their hard work.

If you’re not familiar with the Detroit dance style of jitting, go to youtube and check it out. Chicago gets attention with footwork and juke, but that’s not all that’s out there. Besides their talent, these fellas have managed to perform and teach classes in Europe, touring with Derrick May’s Model 500. Trust me, you’ve heard their music. If you know J.J. Fad, Dr. Dre, or Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” you’ve heard samples of Model 500 so this is an impressive link up. At any rate, I got to sit in on a video shoot the group was doing for an upcoming Underground Resistance video to the song “Footwars.” They looked sharp and it was one of those countless cool events that happen in the D that most people will never even learn about. I luck out from time to time so it keeps me coming back for more!

Detroit Dance Scene:
I was able to squeeze in a Detroit ballroom class with my guy Kevin “Flash” Collins and picked up a few new moves. When it comes to dancing, I still think that Detroit’s one of the best places to go. From Detroit-style cha cha, to Latin Hustle, to bop, to salsa, Detroit has an amazingly diverse dance scene. I also stopped through Mai Tai’s to get reminded of how people dance at clubs. Besides the Latino spots and a couple of Chicago steppers’ sets in the Bay, I haven’t found too many spots that emphasize couple dancing, especially when it comes to Detroit’s diversity.

So, if Detroit is so great, why do I live in California? I could write oodles on how I love living in Oakland, but among other things, I love the nature out here. Yeah, the six inches of snow on New Year’s Eve in Michigan made for beautiful pictures, but a few days after leaving Detroit, the weather was like 50 degrees warmer back in Cali and check out that view when I went hiking. I wish I could combine the two areas, but in the meantime, I’ll just have to keep racking up these frequent flier miles.

Finally, I have to think Ping, Sarah, April, Ms. Frazier, and various business owners in Mexicantown for their hospitality and great conversation!


1. Shatika S. said at June 11, 2008 11:18 pm:

This article starts of kind of interesting because its starts of with all negative, but then you say you miss it so much. I think you should move back if you really miss it. But anyways this article touches a lot of key points that I personally know you’re interested in (especially cause you talk about it so much in class). So I that the main reason you live out here? The whether? The dance articles seemed to catch my attention the most. I had never heard of jitting and juke styles of dancing. I want to go to Detroit to check out the dance scene. It sounds pretty cool. Although i cant really say I would say the Bay is somewhat better...(lol)

2. Tania said at June 13, 2008 6:41 am:

This article it's really interesting but at the same time is sad. it's interesting because it seems that you really miss your town your old days. and you do express it when you are talking about at school. but i think that if you really miss it you should go back and move over there. is not like living where you were born and where you like it. but at the same time i think that it will be har for you because you a=might have got adapted to here and to live your job and everything you have done here is hard. But it seems that over there in detroit is basicallly just like here in Oakland because it's not that safe. nut over there you have your friends family and good things you have done just like here in Oakland. But I think that is much better if you stay here and just go and visit every sertain time.

3. mori said at June 13, 2008 5:41 pm:

im glad thta accually learned something from going to a different state

4. Ernesto said at June 21, 2008 1:07 pm:

Yeah it is difficult when moving fomr one place to another. It takes time to get use to it. I Think you should explain more about jit and how it related to other dances. I seen there video, especially the famous one ( the first video that pop-ups). I was very familiar with the music. I have heard them in movies, video games, and videos on youtube. So why did you choose to move in the bay area. Were you aware of the high crime and the culture of hyphy?

Add your own comments