Hit and Run in Detroit Kills Two Beloved Detroit Spirits

I learned yesterday that two gentlemen were killed in a hit and run in downtown Detroit. It occurred this Friday near Gratiot and Russell street intersection. If you’ve been in this area near the Eastern Market, you know that it is not pedestrian friendly. The two men are people that I use to see all the time when I lived in downtown Detroit. I did not know their names, I just knew them by their unique face. They were a part of the downtown lifestyle and tapestry that makes this city what it is.

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The gentlemen on the left is James Van Horn. He is better known as “Eat ‘Em Up Tigers Man”. A lot of the times I would see him around Comerica park yelling “Eat ‘Em Up Tigers” and giving a little smile.  The Hulk hand was awesome. You had to smile back after seeing something so massive as the Hulk hand.  I would see Mike Alston the most. I learned this week he was also known as Dredlock Mike.

The first time I saw Mike, he was in a wheel chair going across Grand River, where I lived at the time. I noticed his thick heavy locks and his missing legs. But what hit me the hardest was his eyes. His eyes seem to just look beyond me and through me. I felt that I was not there. I remember putting some change in his cup and even then I was not acknowledged.  I think it wasn’t until I passed him several times over a few months that I felt that he was really aware of me. I wondered about his life and family at times.  There isn’t much difference between him and me. Just a few choices, I assume.

I don’t know deep details on either of these guys lives. How they got where they are. I only know from the interaction that I had with them and from that I can say they had kindness in their souls.   I believe that their kindness and the kindness of Detroiters kept them going when things got tough. It hurts my spirit that someone took their lives and did not think enough to stop and help. Helping may have made a difference.

I will pray for these men and pray as the police work to find the one who took their lives. I will also give. Detroiters are very kind people and in that kindness, we want to make sure these Detroit icons have proper funerals. Here are a couple of ways to give:

Clean Up

Saturday was a day of mixed emotions when I grew up. It was the day you could get up a little later and watch cartoons, but it was also the day that you did most of your cleaning. It may be cleaning up the your room but in most cases it was things like washing the walls, straightening up the living room and dining room or mopping the kitchen floor. The big one that none of my siblings enjoyed was cleaning the yard.  It wasn’t the hard work but the fact that you were outside…working. The sacred playground desecrated by chores.

When I got older and chose places to live, I usually picked places that did not have yards or, if they did, someone else was responsible for it.  But not yesterday. Yesterday, I took part in a clean up and this clean up is close to the heart for me. Number one, the clean up occurred in the neighborhood I grew up in and my parents still live in. The second reason is that this once abandoned lot will become a space of artistic expression. I intend, to take this piece of land and share artwork from different Detroiters. I know the power of art. It gathers, it starts discussions, it beautifies spaces and it has the power to change how people think and what people do.

BUT – before I can create I need a CLEAN CANVAS.  This week, Detroit Synergy Group and the neighborhoods of Central Detroit did just that.  Here are a few photos from the clean up. Next week, I hope to share the art that will reside in this space.

 

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Write-in for Mayor of Detroit

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Only in Detroit. So a few weeks ago, Tom Barrow, a Detroit Mayoral Candidate, exposed that Mike Duggan, another candidate, had not been a citizen of the city of Detroit long enough to run for mayor. Duggan did not sign up for a voters registration until two or three weeks after he moved into the city. That choice cost him.  Fair is fair. Most Detroiters did not agree with what Tom Barrow did. He broke a rule. He snitched. And honestly, Detroiters don’t care for snitches. We care for hard working people. People who can show what they can do. Now, I am not saying that all of Detroit is behind Duggan. Not true at all. There are quite a few people who do not want to see him in office for historical and racial reasons. But it is fair to say that Detroiters want everyone to get a fair shake and wanted Duggan to lose or win on his own merit, not some law that most of us didn’t know existed anyway. Yet, the law stands and we have to stand by the law right? But we cannot forget something that is so important in this city; that a REAL DETROITER NEVER QUITS. Duggan has shown himself to have some real Detroit spirit in him.

A couple of days ago, Duggan announced that he would run as a write-in candidate and since then, the energy around his campaign has changed. It is only fitting that to run a town like Detroit, you have to go a little rogue.  And, it also seems that to get the word to the masses,  guerrilla marketing tactics have to be used. All over Detroit you see tagging like the photo above.  Graffiti has been a way to get the word out on the streets for decades. The graffiti shows that this race for mayor is more than the normal household voting and political games. People all over Detroit and in all classes are watching and using their power and voice to make change. Votes from people that politicians thought don’t pay attention to government and policy may make the difference in who sits in the mayor’s sit this coming election.

Duggan has showed appreciation for the support of the taggers but has asked that it is stopped. He personally painted over some of the tagging hoping to get his message across that tagging may not be the best way to move the campaign forward. But, I think, Duggan has to be kind of smiling inside, knowing that he has reached a part of Detroit that hasn’t been reached in a while. This election,  like everything happening in Detroit these days, is going to be very interesting.

Shirin Neshat

I got a chance to view the artwork of Shirin Neshat and it has really moved me. Neshat was born in Iran prior to the revolution, so when she returned after the revolution began, she saw a different world, especially for women.

Her work shows this different Iran and it shows the contrast of delicacy of women and the militant environment that they live in. The writings that you see on the photos are usually scripture. In my interpretation the spiritual words washes away the difficult world that she pictures.

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Her work shocked me when I walked into the exhibit. The type of shock that goes through your body when you walk into a funeral home to view a loved one or actually anyone. That moment when it is only you and the body in the coffin in the room. There is a sacredness there. A silence beyond all silence. You are drawn to the coffin. You look down and you take it all in and for a moment, life becomes real. This thing, death, actually happens. Her pieces show a type of death of a culture and just like that coffin in the front of the room, her art drew me in. I wanted to touch them, but knew that I could not. Her pieces did that to me and just like leaving a funeral home; I was changed from the experience. I wanted to live more deeply and create more profound work.

I want my work to move people. I want it to move people to change and to think more deeply and earnestly. I want someone to care about what is going on thousands a miles away and do something to change it.

Below is a video by Shirin Neshat called Turbulence. It beautifully depicts some differences in men and women in her homeland. The traditions versus this counter culture that is inevitably growing because of suppression. It shows the beauty and limitations of tradition next to the creative wonders of what could come out of a free unbound spirit of a woman.

I also want to share a video of Sussan Deyhim, an Iranian singer who wrote this piece after the protest that occurred in Iran in 2009.

Another Young Life, Gone and We Focus On Race

Trayvon-Martin-2A couple of days ago we all heard the verdict of the Treyvon Martin case. Many people were upset and there were some that believed that justice was served.

For me the trial was not important. I already knew the most likely outcome of that trial before it began. What was wild for me is that race was more of an issue than the fact that violence has taken another young life in America.

Growing up in the 80s in Detroit, I remember losing at least one friend a year to gun violence.    I remember that certain streets were best not used for safety sake and even though I was a total straight lace kid, I feared not living past 17.

That was over 20 years ago and here we are again with the same stuff and same fears. I was lucky and lived beyond my fear, but Treyvon did not. A young life that had the potential of changing this world is gone. The color does not matter, the soul does.

People who say this is a racial issue are not wrong. Everything in America is a racial issue because this country was built on race, prejudice and degradation and until we openly say this and really openly admit that the playing field is not level because of racism, prejudice, and economic classicism, tragedies like Treyvon Martin will continue to hit racial chords.

When Should I Say Something?

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I had a music teacher that would say “A mind is a great thing to have. The next best thing is silence.” It has been over 20 years and that sticks with me. Sometimes it is just good to be quiet, but there are times when ya need to open your mouth. When is it? When should I say something?

What is the best time to tell a friend that their decision to move is a bad one when they are so excited about it? When do you tell your sibling that their job is horrible and that they deserve more? When do you tell the other sibling to stop being lazy and go get what you deserve and how do you tell the other other sibling they are getting exactly what they deserve? When do you say to your dad that you need to find other things to do so you won’t be so depressed? How do you tell your mom to stop giving to everyone else and not giving to herself? When do you tell yourself that you work too much and that your life will be unbalanced an unfulfilled if you keep doing so.

WAIT I have more. When do you tell another friend that they talk too much and do too little? When do you tell a client that what they are developing most of the time have no purpose other than keeping folks busy.  I’ve been holding back a lot of “stuff” that I want to just spew out with the hopes that something will change.

BUT….

It doesn’t work that way. Some things need to be said even when they are difficult to say. In those situations, stop and listen to your inner voice; that spiritual voice and let it guide your words.  Say them with kindness and love so that the words can be heard by whomever you are speaking to.  Just make sure you say it. In this case, I believe it is our responsibility, our calling to speak when out inner spirit tells us to.

That same inner-voice that guides you in what to say in difficult situation will also tell you when not to say some things. It is so hard for me to stay quiet sometimes when I see someone in pain or someone making decisions that I know will end badly. But when we speak at the wrong time we tend to make things worse or we make no difference at all because our words fall on deaf ears.

So when do I say something? When your spirit tells you to. All the other times, take the advice of my teacher and just be quiet. Believe me, if something is meant to be said, it will be; maybe not by you, but by someone.

Tires

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Detroit will never run out of tires. Tire repair shops, shops to buy new tires and places to recylcle and repurpose tires are all over this city.  Tires are also dumped around this city in abandoned lots and open spaces, creating just an ugly mess. So after a couple of days of driving through the city, my brother and I found a place where there was a plethora of tires and we took some. For a good reason of course.

We and some other folks are going to put together an exhibit of art in our neighborhood. The tires are just the first step to a great idea that we hope can change how people use and see space. What makes this even more important to me and my brother is that this clean up, this art exhibit is happening in the neighborhood we grew up in. Three blocks away from our childhood home, a block away from the schools we attended.

I was scared to just go on unknown property removing things without permission, but I have to think that what we will do with these tires are way better than what to this point, the tires were doing to the city.  Plus having my partner in crime made doing this deed a little easier.

Tires. I do see hope in you making change in the world. Starting with my neighborhood.