Friday, April 03, 2009

Detroit - Hoping for a Rebound

The auto industry has hit hard times, Motown left for California more than a generation ago, and the public schools are a mess, but this weekend, Detroit will be rockin’ with the NCAA Final Four tournament at Ford Field, and a 3-day music festival. The NCAA claims that the Final Four will pump $30 million to $50 million into the city. Let’s hope that the tournament will give the citizens of Detroit an economic boost that will have some lasting effect. Maybe Michigan State will win the championship.

A 2008 book,
Getting Ghost: Two Young Lives and the Struggle for the Soul of an American, describes the city's downward spiral, which began after the 1967 riots, and continues today. The author lived three years among the abandoned houses and desolate vacant lots of one of Detroit’s most dangerous neighborhoods. Detroit’s current problems are illustrated by the lives of the two black young men who have been in and out of detention for years. Their lives, where there is little chance of upward mobility, have centered on the street drug trade. They expect to have a short life and a violent death, which is pretty much what they get. Many of the dealers interviewed hope to break out of the inner-city life to become professionals, but the lucrative drug trade offers them the only possible means to afford higher education and to someday “get ghost,” that is, to stop dealing drugs and have a safer life. Many of the customers buying drugs from the two young men are neither from the inner-city nor African-American; most buyers come to Detroit to buy drugs and then return to the nicer parts of Michigan.

An earlier book,
Dancing in the Steet: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit is about Detroit’s earlier, more prosperous times, when Motown was shaping the city’s future. Motown was the first black-owned company to create and produce the musical artistry of its own community -- and then successfully sell it across racial boundaries. At the same time that Motown was having its best years, the local auto industry was allowing a black middle class to grow in Detroit.

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