Stories of Detroit’s revival have continually left out the black residents working to improve the city they’ve called home for decades.
Young black Detroiters have chosen to stay in the majority African-American city or have returned from other places to take part in revitalization efforts — they’re working in the large organizations and foundations steering the ship, starting the new businesses, educating the generation following them, participating in the vibrant art scene and drinking the pour-over coffees. But their contributions go largely unmentioned.
“Whenever we see the positive side, the evolution of the city, it’s always white faces,” said Chase Cantrell, a 32-year-old lawyer. “There are young black people who are doing great things to help the revitalization of the city, and no one’s talking about them.”
Cantrell is one of the millennials who grew up in Detroit and believes in the city’s resurgence. But he and some of his peers are increasingly concerned about their lack of representation, a phenomenon that has real-world harm, according to Donyale Padgett, associate professor of diversity, culture and communication at Detroit’s Wayne State University.
“It really does alter and affect one’s concept of self,” Padgett said. “I think one of the questions it brings up is, where do I see myself and where do I fit in, in this new Detroit.”
In some ways, that lack of representation speaks to a real and troubling lack of diversity among those with power and capital in the city, but there are still many native Detroiters playing a part in its revival. And while the white artists and entrepreneurs coming to Detroit often get praise for the creativity and courage that entails, there are black millennials showing just as much innovation and hustling just as hard — and they deserve recognition, too.
Below, hear from 11 native Detroiters who are deeply passionate about the place they call home and are making sure they are included in the city’s future.