Broke or Not, We Carry On in Detroit

by | Jul 22, 2013 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Dear America,

Yeah, we’re broke.

But we got up this morning.

Yeah, we’re broke.

But we woke the kids. We went to church.

Yeah, we’re broke.

But we ate breakfast. We cleaned the plates. We called friends. We lit the grill.

Yeah, we’re broke.

But we carry on.

Yeah, we’re broke. But we saw it coming. We’ve had an outsider in charge for the last four months. His background is bankruptcy. The first word of his job title is “emergency.”

Yeah, we’re broke; we’re not naïve. We know it. We expected it. We watched for years as our leaders mismanaged funds, made patchwork repairs, borrowed and borrowed and didn’t pay back.

Does that sound familiar? Hasn’t our federal government done the same?

Yeah, we’re broke.

But we’re not the first – or the last.

Not a punchline

Yeah, we’re broke.

It was the perfect storm. We’re built for 2 million. We’re down to 700,000 people. We’re too big for our numbers. We’re too small for our britches.

Yeah, we’re broke. Our city grew on automotive explosiveness and shrunk on economic implosion. Manufacturing died or was sent away. Jobs dried up. So did tax revenue. Our pension funds teetered; when the big recession hit, they fell over. Other cities suffered similar fates. We just took it harder.

Yeah, we’re broke.

But we’re not some national joke. We didn’t “have it coming.” What happened to us nearly happened to New York City – the great New York City – 38 years ago. Our No.1 ranking on Forbes’ “Most Miserable Cities” list might sting, but Chicago is listed as No.4 and Modesto, Calif. – home of “American Graffiti” – was No.5, which means misery is equally scattered across this nation.

Yeah, we’re broke.

But we’re uniquely built to handle it. We don’t give up. We don’t start crying. Some had us buried when the auto industry nearly sank four years ago.

It’s still here. So are we.

Yeah, we’re broke. But there’s a lot of people out there filing Chapter 11, Chapter 7, Chapter 13, a lot of people having their houses yanked away, their life savings depleted, their companies shuttered.

Yeah, we’re broke.

How’s your city doing?

Or your bank account?

Faith in the future

Yeah, we’re broke.

But it’s not who we are. It’s not our first name. We’ve been “Burning Detroit” and “Rust Belt Detroit” and “Unemployed Detroit” and “Abandoned Detroit” and “Racially Divided Detroit.” We’re not any of those.

We’re not “Bankrupt Detroit,” either.

What we are is a city of dogged citizens, all races, all ages, who still work, pay our bills and take care of our responsibilities – even if our leaders don’t do the same.

What we are is a city whose kids want to stay here and live downtown, whose business folks refurbish office buildings and build new stadiums, whose volunteers board up rotting houses and beautify decaying neighborhoods, because beneath the bad news, we still believe in green shoots of a good future.

What we are is a city of Americans who trusted Americans would buy American cars, trusted our elected officials would look out for us, trusted the U.S. economy could withstand anything.

If we were guilty of anything, it’s putting our trust in the wrong places.

Which – in this housing crisis, government secrets, Wall Street-wins era – makes us pretty typical, doesn’t it?

Yeah, we’re broke.

But we’re no different than you. Just maybe geographically unluckier. Cities rely on many things: industry, taxes, labor forces, local leadership. Those things may have collapsed under the weight of decades here, but we, the citizens of Detroit, have not. We still get up, go to work, kiss the kids, believe tomorrow could be better.

We still call this place home. Proudly.

Yeah, we’re broke.

But we’re not broken.

And if you know anything about us, you know this: We’re not going anywhere.


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