Posted August 1, 2008 12:51 am (about 4216 days ago)It’s so easy to get caught up in the fact that Michigan’s seen better days. It’s still depressing driving around some of the neighborhoods and all of the abandoned buildings and the mayor’s a hot mess. Allegedly assaulting a sheriff last week was just the latest negative press related to him. Even Asian Village shut down after a mere few months. But during my short visit I was part of many positive events and around people making change in the community and I left feeling reinvigorated. Among the things:
1. Dance Fusion USA Conference
I’ve said it before, but Detroit has the most amazing dancers I’ve seen. Don’t get me wrong, other cities have great dancers as well, but Detroit just has diversity that I have yet to see in other cities. You’ll see the same people doing four or five styles in one night, looking good at all of them. This conference was the third annual one, and the first in Detroit. Representation came from places such as Los Angeles, North Carolina, Baltimore, Cleveland, Kalamazoo, Saginaw, and Houston. Dance styles ranged from bop to salsa to the Lindy Hop. While the classes and everything were good, the highlight was The Legends Ball, which paid respect to some of the dancers who’ve helped create the Detroit dance scene. There’ll be a DVD available from the event, but in the meantime I posted some clips:
- Clarence "Pee Wee" Harris
- Wendell Stone
- Farran Page
- Nate "The Great" Vaughn
- Miles "The Madison Man" Adolph
- Tyrone "The Godfather" Bradley
- Super Bad/Good Foot James Brown Hustle Line Dance
Fred “Fast Freddy” Anderson was also recognized, although he wasn’t in attendance. Hopefully we’ll see some ladies represented at next years. Nonetheless, it was a move towards documenting and celebrating this history and it’s a shame this type of event didn’t receive more attention. They’re doing it again next year so be sure to visit the site for more info.
2. Family reunion in Reese
OK, so Reese is like an hour and a half north of Detroit, but it’s all southeast Michigan, right? Then again, Reese, which is a rural, predominately White community is the opposite of Detroit’s urban, mostly African American community. Whenever I’m in the area I go to both, and it’s always good to get these different perspectives. Neither place is easy to define by mere stereotypes, and hearing different perspectives keeps me from getting too comfortable with one way of thought. Having said that, I couldn’t help but think about a quote attributed to Barack Obama, when he said in reference to Midwest voters, "they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Just from talking to people who grew up in more blue-collar towns, and that’s of all ethnicities, there IS frustration and I did hear people talk about guns, religion, immigrants and so forth. I merely bring this up to say that, while many were insulted by this comment, it made sense to me. Just by bouncing among different groups, I really think many people would be amazed at how much they have in common with “the other.” People are trying to figure out what’s wrong and we tend to fall back on the same rationale.
All political and world views aside, it was nice to reconnect with family, the majority of whom I’m not close with as my father’s job kept us out of Michigan for most of my childhood. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but as soon as I got out of the car I was greeted by cousins I haven’t seen in at least a decade. I literally spent hours talking to various family members, hearing about cousins serving in Iraq, the problem with charter schools (I work at one), and family life. I really appreciated the chance to see everyone and Michigan felt a bit like home again.
3. Detroit in general
Back in the D, I spent a good part of my time with the crew over at Submerge, including regulars such as Mike and Cornelius, and others I’ve never met such as BJ from Posatronix and producers Nick Speed and Billy Bob. K-Fresh from rensoul.com is also doing work with Submerge these days. They’re always developing interesting music projects but I was struck by their efforts to work with the city to institutionalize support for the arts in Detroit including acquiring low-cost spaces for artists to live and work, as well as partnering up with community groups such as Detroit Summer. On a related note, I met up with the X-Menn about a possible visit to the Bay and was invited to a meeting with the Better Detroit Youth Movement, a coalition of various individuals and organizations committed to, uh, bettering Detroit. Attendees included UniTeeDesign, Montaj, and Natalie Chickee of Windsor.
So all in all, it was a powerful, positive trip, as short as it was. I enjoyed visiting the newly reconfigured Detroit Institute of Art and shopping Zaccaro’s Market in Midtown, which is similar to Whole Foods. My visit was brief that I didn’t get to do my usual visit to Mexicantown and the like. Still, I left feeling reinvigorated to get back to work in Oakland, and dare I say it, even considering a move back to the Midwest one day…
Other Shout Outs
Mrs. Frazier, Marquis, JaMay, Geneva, Anita, Graffiti. They all know why!