My name is Kyle Warfield, and I am most certainly a proud member of the Detroit Diaspora.
My story begins a few years back with a ritual of sorts - an act similar to one you may have recently heard about.
In 2006, I was accepted into the J.D. Class of 2009 at the University of Miami in sunny Coral Gables, Florida. Excited wasn’t even the word; I was elated to know that I was going to be able to continue my education away from home in what I then saw as a welcomed respite from 21 years in the state of Michigan. When my bags were packed and all but ready to go, I took a trip to Briarwood Mall in Ann Arbor and grabbed a brand new, fresh Detroit Tigers fitted hat – size 7 3/8. Granted, I had already packed a slew of Michigan gear, as well as my Curtis Granderson jersey-tee and my Rasheed Wallace Pistons jersey (yes, you can officially blame me for both players no longer being in Detroit). But the hat was the final piece of the puzzle. No matter where I went in South Florida, EVERYONE was going to know where I was from.
And it worked.
It started conversations – about baseball and the Tigers’ 2006 World Series run; about Kwame, and everything that stems from him; about crime and urban decay; about the stagnating auto industry; about whether or not I was REALLY from Detroit, or some unknowable suburb. Yet even as the conversations began to become canned and mostly-if-not-purely focused on the negative, every year as Spring Training started to ramp up in Lakeland I was at the mall looking for a new hat to replace last year’s worn out edition.
Five years later, I still live outside of the city. Five years later, I still swear by my D hat.
It is against this backdrop that the allure of the Detroit Diaspora project spoke so clearly to me in ways that are hard to express. As an alumnus of two distinguished universities (Go Blue!/C-A-N-E-S, Canes!), you are often reminded of the number of living alums with whom you share a specific geographical radius at a given time. But that connection is ephemeral. I mean, sure, I went to the same college as President Gerald Ford and the same law school as the inimitable Reince Priebus. Yeah, I can walk down the street in DC or Silver Spring, MD or Arlignton, VA and see “Michigan Sociology/Law/Political Science/Hockey/Basketball/Football” t-shirts or Miami Hurricanes athletic gear and swell up with some kind of pride. But anyone who has ever received a phone call from their alma mater in search of donations understands just how weak that tie can truly be (“I’m sorry. I just don’t have anything to give right now.”).
Compare that to knowing that you and ten, a hundred, a thousand people as close as your neighbor or as far as an ocean away share the same loyalty and fidelity to the place that raised and formed you. Imagine dialoguing with people about more than just the dirty laundry that happened to reach CNN that morning, or the latest “ruin porn” that someone posted to Twitter or an oft-frequented blog. The chance that this Detroit Diaspora project can link the so-called lost social capital that has resulted from the Brain Drain effecting the State of Michigan is mind-boggling. How could something so simple have an effect so profound? As our city has become national news – a case-study serving as a “Patient Zero” of sorts in the fight to understand what can go wrong in a metropolis – a new pride has been awakened in some of its expatriates that has led to a number of not-so-cursory efforts to help save what many have written off. Small cells of individuals on both coasts and everywhere in between are beginning to pop up and talk to one another. Donations are being sent back in the wake of school closings and rumors of neighborhood consolidation (and that whole Robocop statue fiasco surely lit a fire under a number of out-of-state philanthropists). Though “unorganized”, these efforts are effective. So why not consolidate? It is that potential that has me intrigued.
We currently stand at the precipice, with the promise of a powerful mass movement afoot. The “lost” social capital of the city has been identified in enclaves across the country and around the world. We are a diaspora, and nothing says that we cannot become connected in meaningful ways that will shape the future of our city – no matter where we may currently call home. I love it, and I will do my best to be a part of the solutions that we can create. What about you?
Are you in?