Thursday, July 23, 2015

Postcards from Detroit, Part One – Let’s Tell the Rest of the Story

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
#riseupelca #detroit

During the week of July 14 – 20, I accompanied a group of youth from the church I serve, United in Christ Lutheran in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, along with youth and advisers from four other Lutheran churches in our conference, to Detroit, Michigan, for the triennial ELCA Youth Gathering.  We joined 30,000 other Lutheran youth for five days of learning, service, worship, fellowship and fun.  What we saw in Detroit is a very different place than the one consistently portrayed in the media.  Coming from small town, rural central Pennsylvania, our youth felt some trepidation going to a city that has a reputation for violence, poverty, drugs, gangs and general depravity.  However, after walking the streets of downtown Detroit and serving in a HOPE Village community clean-up project in the northwest part of the city, we met the residents, learned about the complexities of this city, and have come back to tell a different story. 
We came . . .

 Yes, the negative things heard about Detroit are true.  
We saw . . .

But what is rarely, if ever reported is that the people of Detroit are welcoming, friendly, warm, appreciative, and joyful – even in the midst of their struggles.  When word got out about these busloads of youth being deployed throughout the city in their orange shirts to clean out abandoned lots, paint park benches, read to children, pack food boxes, and countless other projects, the residents made it a point to come up to us and thank us for the work we were doing.  
We cleaned . . .

Weeded . . .

Clipped . . .

One resident I talked to, upon seeing his neighborhood transformed from trash-filled to clean before his very eyes, said, “This gives me hope.”  
Before . . .

Coming back from Ford Field each night after the spirit-filled concerts and inspirational speakers, we saw local children greeting the parade of singing teens in the streets,

parking attendants dancing for us, 

and residents in high-rises waving and smiling.  What I heard repeatedly from residents who we talked to was this plea:  Please tell the rest of the story about Detroit when you get home. 

The challenges of structural racism, patterns of poverty, educational inequality, and economic misfortunes in Detroit are real, deeply embedded and complex.  But every city, every town faces these kinds of challenges.  The youth in my church reminded me repeatedly that drugs are a problem in their schools, racism is thinly veiled in our community, poverty is a constant for many, and their own neighbors and family members make poor choices when it comes to important life decisions.  They now realize that their circle of “family” has been extended to Detroit.  And Detroiters came to learn that they have more allies in their corner than they ever imagined. 

Most importantly, our youth realized that God is already at work in these supposedly God-forsaken places.  The theme of the Gathering was “Rise Up.”  We saw this resurrectional rising in Detroit and are inspired to continue to do God’s work with our hands here in our own community as well.  

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