This is another story from the Detroit Diaspora, written by Madalasa Mobili, a native Detroiter living in New York with her husband and family. She describes her vision of life back home and how it is inspired by changes she’s witnessed during her time in Detroit. Here she is in her own words.
My third chapter in Detroit
My children are all grown up now and I am thinking a lot these days about what my next move is for that infamous “third chapter” of my life. I have been living in New York since 1978 and am looking for an easier (and less expensive) place to live out that third chapter.
Our eldest son Sergio was born with Down’s syndrome and visual impairment. New York, like everywhere else in our country, is quickly tightening the screws on the money for services for the disabled. This is no one’s fault in particular, but it does make our lives much more difficult now that Sergio is at an age where we are hoping to find him a permanent place to live. With nothing available in New York I have had to start thinking outside the box in much the same way as those intrepid souls in Detroit are being forced to think outside the box every day in the hope of kick-starting their city.
I have been thinking a lot lately about a life back in Detroit, surrounded by my sister and brother and their families and getting the support I have never had living in New York. My niece has just moved back to Detroit and will soon be looking for a place of her own and we were talking about her finding a house in Detroit as opposed to one in the suburbs. Of the many problems with that idea is that there is nowhere to shop for food in many of the Detroit neighborhoods.
I have been fantasizing lately about moving back to Detroit in the Wayne State University area and opening up a small food market. I would stock the store with all the essentials; basic food-stuffs like milk and butter and cheese and meats, cleaning products, toilet paper – much like a typical convenience store. I would also provide a small offering of prepared foods like soups and sandwiches and salads and pastas and baked goods. My sister who is a fine baker could handle the baked goods and I could manage everything else.
When I think about this, it doesn’t sound like such a radical idea, certainly not as radical as putting a man on the moon, yet everywhere I look in Detroit, there are neighborhoods where you cannot even buy a box of laundry detergent or a loaf of bread for the lack of markets available. It seems like an easy fix but I am sure there are challenges to doing something like opening a small food market in an inner city neighborhood that I am not aware of.
In 1978, when I first moved to New York City, I visited Harlem for the first time. At that time Harlem was a scary place with abandoned buildings and drug dealers on the corners, much like I suppose some of the neighborhoods in Detroit are scary places. As I was walking on the streets of Harlem that day, I had this idea that Harlem was only scary because we all said it was scary. I saw in that moment that if we could somehow change the conversation we were having about Harlem that it could become a safe place for families to return to and live and grow. Today Harlem is, for the most part, a beautiful area and a much sought after place to live. Many of the brownstone buildings have been renovated and shiny new high rises have been built everywhere. All kinds of stores have opened up and the streets are bustling with activity and life. The conversation about Harlem clearly has changed radically since that day in 1978.
When I think about Detroit and living in the city again, it helps me to think about Harlem and how in just 33 years I witnessed first hand the transformation of a dangerous and degraded neighborhood into a place where people want to raise their families. I believe this is possible in Detroit as well, but first we have to figure out how to provide people with the essentials for living like food and toilet paper and soap. My young niece who is just starting out in life would be a huge asset to any neighborhood she decides to plant roots in. I am confident she would be a local leader coaching children in sports and active in her church. She is the kind of young and vital person that Detroit is looking for and if I could make it possible for her and others like her to settle back in Detroit by providing a place to buy the barest essentials to live, I think that my third chapter could really count for something.