Cool Like Detroit

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The Detroit River Walk was once lost but now is found.

It was recently brought to my attention that Detroit is now “cool.” The poster child for come back cities, Detroit is going through a renaissance. Money is literally being pumped into the city at mind blowing rates and it is nearly impossible to keep up with all the new projects, restaurants and retail locations popping up on a daily basis.

But it wasn’t always  “cool” to be from Detroit. For most of my life I watched people cringe whenever they talked about Detroit. Many suburban residents were terrified to go anywhere near the city and most of them, when asked where they were from when visiting other places, would give their suburban town name rather than just saying they were from Detroit- even though they lived within 10 miles of the city. They were too embarrassed to say they were from Detroit even though it would have clarified things geographically to people they would most likely never see again.

I’ve always known that Detroit was cool. My first blog, Little Miss Detroit, was dedicated to promoting the parts of Detroit that lived on despite what the rest of the world thought of our city. Detroit is and always has been a place of grit, vision and hope. It is not being reborn, regardless of what some might say, because it was never dead. I know this because I have been a part of Detroit my entire life. I was born in 1967, the year of the 12th Street riots and the beginning of white flight from the city; My parents packed up our house on Joy Rd and Southfield and moved to the suburbs when I was four-years-old; I watched as buildings were boarded up and vandalized and trash blew down the streets like tumbleweeds. And I volunteered in soup kitchens and shopping programs for elderly Detroit residents and blogged about people starting businesses and gardens and art projects while other suburbanites would repeatedly check the locks on their car doors anytime they were forced to cross the border into Detroit.

One of the things that I have always loved about Detroit is that it seems to breed creativity. At first the creativity was born from necessity- people started gardens and bakeries because all of the major grocery chains pulled their stores out of the city. They started schools and food banks and art installations because the government failed to provided adequate services for the people. Now that things are changing, creative people are coming to Detroit for different reasons. Detroit is one of the only large cities that is still affordable and creative types are coming in droves to set up shop. They are starting community letterpress studios and distilleries and non-profits. They are opening restaurants and retail stores and chocolate shops. I meet these creative entrepreneurs all the time and it nearly makes me cry to see what they are doing and the impact they are having on others and their communities. These are the people that make and have always made Detroit cool. Everyone should be able to live in a place that lets them have a chance to live their purpose and succeed-not just people with money. If you have and idea and a dream you should be able to make that happen. We all need to support these people and places-whether they are in Detroit or Honolulu or anywhere else- and in doing so make the world a better place.

Here are some places worth supporting in Detroit…

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Samira Ray is a student at Detroit Food Academy.

Detroit Food Academy

A non-profit that works to give young entrepreneurs (ages 13-24) self-directed experiences and skills in the food industry. From learning how to cook to taking their artisanal products to market, they are growing and educating our next generation of community leaders. Samira Ray is a student at DFA. She was excited and proud to talk about all that’s going on at her school. She told me that The Detroit Pop Shop is a brand that was given over to DFA when the owners left the state. Now it’s run by students such as Samira. Learn more at http://detroitfoodacademy.com

 

 

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Local growers sell their produce at the Grown in Detroit stand at Eastern Market

Keep Growing Detroit

A non-profit concerned with food sovereignty, KGD has programs ranging from gardening classes to free seeds to their Grown in Detroit market program. This is one of the most comprehensive, versatile and down right amazing social justice agencies that I have ever come across. I have some serious love in my heart for this place. Learn more at http://detroitagriculture.net

 

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Just pick one…they are all delicious.

Avalon International Breads

This bakery opened its doors in Detroit when others were fleeing. When many saw only ruins and despair, they saw an opportunity to fill a need and be a proponent for change. Not to mention their breads are amazingly delicious! You can find them at Eastern Market on Saturday mornings or at their brick and mortar location on Willis St. in the Cass Corridor. Website: avalonbreads.net

 

Support places like these in Detroit, your home town, or wherever you may roam. Or better yet, live your purpose and change your own community by starting a business, non-profit or restaurant of your own. Be cool… Like Detroit.

 

 

Privilege

I am privileged. I accept and admit that. Being a white, middle class, educated woman has granted me access to people, places, situations and things that others do not have access to. I have never been asked to leave somewhere or been denied a job because of how I looked. I have never known what it feels like to be hungry and not have access to food. I have always had a place to rest my head at night. I can walk into nearly every establishment and be treated as if I belong there (even if I don’t). I often take these things for granted and forget that not everyone has these same comforts and privileges.

Living in Hawaii is a bit different than what I’m used to. I am not in the majority here. I have, on occasion, felt people’s anger and hatred towards me because of my color. I have been in places and situations where I am accepted only because I am there with my husband (who is Hawaiian). I have seen, first hand what complete assholes white tourists can be and I am embarrassed sometimes, many times actually, to be white.

But just like people of color cannot change their color, I cannot change my whiteness. Despite the fact that I have always gravitated towards people who are different than me, have always had interest in learning about other cultures and have a deep love and respect for those cultures, I am still white. At least on the outside, where, to many, many people, it counts the most. And that is sad because the inside is really where it’s all at. You can look one way on the outside and be someone completely different on the inside. I have to be reminded sometimes (usually by my children) that I’m white. Which is funny. Except not really.

Many of us “whites” have lost our own cultures through the process of assimilation into the American culture. My father’s family came from Poland and France but neither the languages nor any of the traditions that my great grandparents brought with them are remembered or practiced by any member of my family. I know people whose ancestors came from the Middle East or Latin America who see themselves as white now because they can pass as white. And they want that privilege of being white. They want the country club and the big house and the access and the stuff and they don’t care what they have to give up to have it. Some even vote for politicians who create laws that oppress the people with the same racial and cultural backgrounds that they themselves have. And they don’t even realize that they are contributing to the oppression of their own people by giving up who they are to have what they have. My ancestors did this too and I am privileged because of it… but at the cost of losing where I came from and, as a result losing who I am

So yes, many times I am embarrassed to be white: When I read about the atrocities committed here in Hawaii by people who look like me I am embarrassed. When I witness first hand the damage caused to the environment here because of the selfishness and greed of people who look like me, I am embarrassed. When I see white tourists appropriating the Hawaiian culture for their photo ops or enjoyment, I am embarrassed. When I am either ignored or greeted with hostility by people of color when I attempt to speak to them I am embarrassed. I’m embarrassed by that last one but I get it. I get why some people dislike me. People who look like me have been oppressing other peoples for hundreds, if not thousands of years. People who look like me have caused the near extinction of virtually every indigenous people on the face of the Earth. People who look like me have raped this land, poisoned its people and continue to do so because of pure greed. People who look like me continue to benefit at the expense of others and many do horrific things to insure that they continue to benefit and exert their power over others.

There is good reason for me to feel embarrassed for my whiteness; I continue to experience privilege from being white and I most likely will for the rest of my life. I did nothing to earn these privileges and I can’t give them back but I can acknowledge that they exist, I can give back to my brothers and sisters of color with my time, my talents and my resources. I can be an ally to people of color in how I think, how I speak, how I vote and what I do. And I can encourage other people who look like me to do the same. So I encourage you now (whether you look like me or not) to acknowledge the privileges that you benefit from and think about what you can do to be an ally to those who don’t benefit in those same ways.

Sending you much aloha,

Shelly

PS. I know this blog seems random…  one post on Hawaii, then some on energy and one on privilege… I just share what I’m experiencing and if that makes me random, so be it. I hope you’re enjoying my randomness, and if you learn something along the way, that makes me happy. Namaste.

Revolution

Most people like food. Pretty much everyone I know eats on a daily basis. So you would think that people would be more interested in their food, specifically what they’re eating, how it was produced and where it comes from. But clearly people are not that interested because the situation with food is clearly out of control. It’s pretty obvious by what’s on the grocery store shelves; most people happily spend their money on processed and genetically modified foods without giving it a second thought.  The problem is immense and dangerous and out of control. This quote from John Robbins, author, activist and humanitarian sums it up.

Our food chain is in crisis. Big agribusiness has made profits more important than your health- more important than the environment-more important than your right to know how your food is produced.

To me this is beyond disturbing. Because I cannot for the life of me understand how or why this happened. And I really can’t even begin to wrap my head around the idea of how to fix it. Except we must. We must fix it and soon because our very existence depends upon it being fixed. This is the stuff that only a revolution will fix so we must, all of us, become revolutionaries. We must revolt against the status quo of factory farmed, genetically modified, cruelly raised, earth destroying and chemically altered food that most of us consume on a daily basis. How do we do this? We make choices that support change by refusing to give our money to companies that put profits above what’s right. Read my husband Mike Spencer’s blog to learn the power of a boycott.

taroOn a recent visit to Kauai we had the great fortune to visit a lo’i kalo (taro farm) run by Kaina Makua and his nonprofit Kumano i ke Ala. It’s so remote that to get there you either have to walk across a swinging bridge or drive your truck across the river- there’s no road that crosses the river to the property. But it’s beautiful, peaceful and sustainable. It’s also free from genetic modification. We spoke with Kaina for some time about his vision to grow taro on a small scale and to provide unpasteurized poi and other taro products through their partner business Aloha Āina Poi Co. He spoke of his dreams and his hard work and the community he is building there. He told us that the water from the river near his farm is being diverted and that the river is flowing less and less over time.

This taro farm is a reminder of the roots of Hawaii; a place that was, not so long ago, free from contamination. The Hawaiian people had one of the most sustainable food systems ever developed, the ahupua’a. The water was channeled from the mountain to the taro fields. It would then drain to the fish pond and out to sea leaving in its path food for everyone. Then the colonizers came and diverted the water for sugarcane and greed and began the process of stripping the people not only of their water and land, but of their culture and dignity as well. It is the same story told too many times in too many different settings. I’m sure you’ve heard the story before. If not in the context of the Hawaiian people, then certainly in the context of Native Americans or Mauri or Aboriginal or indigenous people everywhere. The story always ends the same… greed wins and everyone else loses.

Now we have a chance to write a new story. We can do this by being mindful of who and what we support with our dollar. We can buy food from small farms with big missions like Kaina’s. We can grow our own food. We can tell our friends and families to do the same. We can make a difference in the small things we do each day because the small things done by the many will be greater than the big things done by the few. We can be like David, who with his tiny stone, defeated the giant. We can and we must. Our entire existence and the existence of our future generations depend upon it.

As we stood in the lo’i kalo speaking with Kaina that day about why he was growing his taro there in that remote and beautiful place I was reminded of this quote I had read some time ago…

In our society growing food yourself has become the most radical of acts. It is truly the only effective protest. One that can-and will-overturn the corporate powers that be. By the process of directly working in harmony with nature, we do the one thing most essential to change the world. We change ourselves.(author unknown)

I pulled up the quote on my phone and gave it to Kaina to read. He was thoughtful for a moment and said, “I don’t know about all that activism stuff… I just like to grow food.”

 

Support Kaina’s mission by shopping at Aloha Aina Poi Co (website for the nonprofit Kumano i ke Ala is being developed and will be available soon).

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My husband Mike (far left) standing next to Kaina with the crew of taro lovers.

Redemption

My husband Mike likes to talk to cab drivers and Uber drivers and airport shuttle drivers… if your driving us, he wants to talk with you. His father was a driver here on Oahu, as well as a gifted story-teller, and I think Mike realizes the depth of both information and history that these amazing people hold. I actually like that he likes to talk to our drivers. It makes the trip much more interesting and you never know what you might learn.

Last week we were in Florida  attending a conference for our Young Living business. We decided to stay in the convention center where the conference was going on and we decided not to rent a car since we would be busy much of every day. When you stay at a conference center without a car you are pretty much held hostage. They charge you crazy prices for mediocre (at best) food and drink and you’re forced, out of boredom, to walk around the man-made environment that is designed to look like nature so you feel better about paying $7 for a bottle of water. It is, in a way, oppressive.

One day we decided to take an Uber to a Puerto Rican restaurant that was recommended to us by one of the valets (we prefer recommendations from local people as the concierges tend to be trained to give tourist-specific advice). We hopped in the back of the car and within minutes the conversation with the driver began. On this particular day the conversation began as it usually does: the drive was going to take a bit longer than we’d thought; the weather was unseasonably hot; no, he’d never eaten at this particular restaurant. I noticed the man’s Caribbean accent and I knew it was a matter of time before…

“Where are you from originally?” Asked Mike.

“Jamaica,” replied our driver (I’ll call him Willy). Then the conversation took a turn that I hadn’t anticipated. The two of them began discussing the similarities among island people; how they are very family oriented; the problems living in a place crowded with tourists, the loss of culture and dignity of the native people. During a pause in the conversation I told Willy that I had been to Jamaica before. I asked him what city in Jamaica he was from and he replied, “Oh it’s a very small place, you probably have never heard of it. St Anne.”

“I’ve been there!” I said. “That’s where Bob Marley was born. I went to visit his childhood home when I was in Jamaica.” I didn’t tell him how I had drank some “tea” from an old Rastafarian man who was selling it outside of Bob Marley’s birthplace (bad choice but it made the bus ride down the mountain more enjoyable). And so, the subject naturally turned to Bob Marley. Willy told us that he had met Bob Marley once right before he died. We talked about his music and Mike said that his favorite Bob Marley song was Redemption Song. Willy agreed that it is the best song that Bob Marley ever wrote. They talked a bit about the significance of the lyrics and how powerful they are…

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds
Have no fear for atomic energy
‘Cause none of them can stop the time

To me, this is deep. This made me understand my husband and our driver in a new way. For these two men from different islands share a similar history. Both of their peoples have been  oppressed and marginalized for over a century and continue to be treated as less. In my opinion the worst thing about oppression is not that others are mistreated (although that’s terrible, don’t get me wrong). To me the worst thing about oppression is that, because of this mistreatment, the oppressed are convinced that they are less; the mental slavery that comes from oppression is crippling. It makes the oppressed believe that they are unworthy. And that is simply not true.

And whether or not you have experienced oppression, the truth is that you are affected by it. We all suffer from the effects of oppression whether we realize it or not. To allow some to suffer while others go about their day as if all is well in the world affects us at the soul level. To believe that this is how the world should be and that there’s nothing we can do about it is crippling to ourselves and those around us. To put your faith in a system that is unjust is the mental slavery that Bob Marley talks about in this song. And, to some degree we all suffer from it. But there is good news in Bob Marley’s song. The good news is that the redemption can be found within ourselves. We have the power to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery.

We are, none of us, better or worse than anyone else. To believe in our own superiority or worthlessness is an illusion and only facilitates suffering. But the good news is that Bob Marley was right; we can free our minds from these illusions. We can change our thoughts and help others to change their thoughts to reflect the light that is in each and every one of us. We all have within us that same spark of life that was given to us by the creator when we first came into this world.We can start today by treating ourselves and those around us with aloha; with love and kindness, remembering that, whether you are a doctor, teacher, waitress, cab driver, or anything else, you share that same light with those around you. We can free our minds from the status quo and in turn we can free the world.

Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever have
Redemption songs
Redemption songs

You Tube video of Redemption Song