Detroit Diaspora Story: Elizabeth W.

This is the first in what will be a a diverse set of stories from the Detroit Diaspora. It’s only appropriate that the set of stories begin with that of Elizabeth W., a woman who was born and raised in Detroit and lived in several different places before returning home to Detroit to do great work.

I asked her a few questions about her experience, and her answers follow.

What part of the Detroit area are you from? Do you still have family in the area?

I’m originally from the West Side of Detroit.  My family still lives is the Detroit area, but most have moved to the surrounding suburbs.

Where have you lived since you left Detroit?

I’ve lived in Chicago, Ghana (West Africa), Los Angeles, St. Louis and the DC area.

When did you first consider returning? When did you actually return?

This is my favorite part of the story.  :)   Upon moving away, I’d come home regularly to visit family, friends, and to attend local arts events during holidays.  In 2008, those visit started to become more frequent.  During one of those visits I questioned myself…”If some of my favorite people were here and as well as some of my favorite things to do, why don’t I move back?”  I’d been home for a funeral during the Spring of 2009.  After the services, the impact of my family’s love really hit home.

Why did you return? How did your family/significant other/children feel about it?

There were two major factors that strongly influenced my decision to return:

1) I knew I had a lot of skills, and knew that any city I lived in would benefit from them. I also knew of the great challenges Detroit faced.  I wanted to be part of the solution.  I saw opportunity for great growth, and I knew that my background in education, curriculum development, youth advocacy, the arts, and community organizing could be put to great use.  Further, an elder and mentor (who currently resides in the city), asked me to consider leadership within a local institution.  I have a great respect for him and it was quite difficult to say no!  It was important to me to use my talents to support a city that was so instrumental to my growth and development.

2) The second major factor was family. Things change when you become a parent.  I wanted my son and future children to have regular access to the elders in our family.  Family and the development of it is about much more than exchanges of Christmas cards, e-mails, and photos.  I wanted my son to really know his family, and for them to know him.  Further, many of our relatives are aging.  I also wanted to be able to care for them, take them out for a spin, and benefit from their wisdom.  There’s nothing like the wisdom of an elder.  :)   My family was VERY supportive and they looked forward to our return.

What are you doing in/around/for Detroit now?

I’m currently working in school leadership, and I’m assuming a directorship/principalship at an African-centered school in early summer.  I work to ensure that children have an outstanding, holistic education that affirms their gifts, their potential to succeed, their budding commitments to social justice, and honors their culture and history.  Our school community is also quite active in the food justice movement.  You’ve probably heard of the community farms and gardens taking over once vacant lots.  Our children learn about creating and sustaining harmony between themselves and the environment–part of that work is centered around food security and justice.  They learn how to grow their own food, and how to take leadership of that work in their neighborhoods. I’m also working with a great team to launch Detroit’s first Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School this summer.

What message do you want to share with other people in Detroit’s Diaspora?

Detroit is alive.  Don’t let the media fool you.  The challenges are big, but the love, creativity, and skills in this city are greater. Within us is the ability to make and be the change we want to see.  I challenge you to join us.  Peace and respect.

Thank you Elizabeth. Your story is an inspiring example of how and why people returning home can have an impact.

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