Detroit— The 313 butterflies were released from envelopes at noon Thursday at a celebration downtown, a symbol of the city rising on its 313th birthday and bringing in a new era for Detroit.
It didn’t go quite as planned.
Some of the butterflies fell to the ground, too stunned to move immediately. Some were stepped on by overzealous revelers. But many others took flight, floating above the gathering at Campus Martius.
The mixed results of the mass release could be seen as a metaphor for Detroit’s efforts, in fits and starts, to recover from decades of decline and improve its image.
“This is a most significant time in the history of our city as we face challenges,” Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones told the hundreds gathered in the downtown park. “Today’s celebration is a reflection of the pride we Detroiters feel.”
Detroit was founded July 24, 1701, as a French trading post and fort. In 1760, French rule gave way to British control and by 1796, the United States took over.
Detroit was incorporated as a city in 1815, and throughout the years, it would serve as a final stop on the Underground Railroad and as a manufacturing hub for cigars, kitchen ranges and, of course, automobiles. In the 1960s, Motown was born, earning the city international music clout.
Today, Detroit is more well-known for the signs of troubling economic times: bankruptcy, emergency management and the threat of water shutoffs affecting hundreds of residents.
But Thursday’s celebration at Campus Martius was all about the good things: burgeoning businesses, new investment downtown and a growing sense of community that extends beyond the city’s borders.
“This is the positive side of Detroit,” said Trenice Gray. “This is Detroit showing its true self.”
The Detroiter works at the Federal Reserve Building and came to celebrate on her lunch break. She said that even though the city faces tough issues, they are the same challenges that other large metropolitan cities face.
“You can’t make an overall generalization of Detroit because of what you hear,” Gray said, gesturing to the crowd that had gathered around the stage at Campus Martius. “Just look at everybody here.”
Many people had brought their children down to the park to put on their party hats and dance to the sounds of Larry Lee & the Back in the Day Band. The band featured some of Detroit’s finest musicians who have gone on to have successful careers in the industry.
Rashawnda Lowery, a Quicken Loans employee, brought her 4-year-old daughter, Maranda, to work to enjoy the celebration.
“It makes me want to get to work, seeing how hard they are working to get the city back together,” said the Detroiter. “It makes me feel inspired that we are moving in the right direction. And it makes me feel blessed to be a part of it.”