Why the Detroit Historical Museum is seeking city's 'unsung' heroes

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Attention, Black business owners and entrepreneurs in Detroit: the Detroit Historical Museum wants to tell your stories.

On Wednesday, the museum launched a new initiative called The Hustle that aims to tell the stories of Detroit's "unsung heroes" through a year-long exhibit. The museum is asking for nominations of Black Detroiters from all over the city and every profession, barbers to grocery store owners, to tell "unexpected" stories and experiences that embody Detroit but don't often, if ever, get told in museums.

"This project is our effort to really dig deep into Detroit's neighborhoods to uncover and document the stories of the men and women who make every day life in Detroit special," said Elana Rugh, the museum's president and CEO. "It's another example of our ongoing commitment to telling all of Detroit's stories and why they matter."

Elana Rugh, President & CEO,The Detroit Historical Museum, talks about the new initiative to tell the stories of Black entrepreneurs and business owners in the city of Detroit during a press conference at The Detroit Historical Museum.

The Hustle marks the museum's biggest new initiative since its award-winning Detroit67 project was unveiled in 2017. 

Nominations will be accepted through the end of June. From there, a committee will narrow the list to 36 winners. The first winners will be featured with artifacts, oral histories, photos and more in September on center stage in the museum's Gallery of Culture. Six to nine winners will be featured every three months before the initiative culminates with one large display at the end of 2023.

Rugh said the idea for The Hustle, which is funded by the Gilbert Family Foundation, Toyota and others, came about after a conversation she had in 2018 with Detroit Historical Society Trustee Marc Bland. Rugh asked Bland how the museum could do a better job of bringing in more native Detroiters to visit the museum. 

"I said 'Elana, we have to have more exhibits that reflect what's really going on in Detroit,'" said Bland. 

Bland said when you think of the landscapers, seamstresses, mechanics and so many others, "those are the people that drove me and others in Detroit to have success. They paid for college, paid for homes, put meals on the table, but they weren't recognized."

Marc Bland, Detroit Historical Museum trustee and founder of the Detroit Hustle project gives his remarks during the press conference at The Detroit Historical Museum in Detroit. The Detroit Historical Museum is launching a new initiative to tell the stories of Black entrepreneurs and business owners in the city. It's called The Hustle.

Bland said he hopes the museum, which marked its centennial last year, is one of the first to show the "fabric" of communities such as Detroit.

"They're keeping everybody fed, full and motivated. And now I'm glad we're going to recognize them," said Bland.

Eventually, Rebecca Salminen Witt, the museum's chief strategy and marketing officer, said The Hustle could expand or have future phases to include unsung heroes outside Detroit and other ethnicities. 

"We do hope the project has legs and get to come back for more iterations," said Salminen Witt.

But "being here in Detroit and being a Detroit museum, we had to start with Detroit," said Rugh.


Detroit Historical Museum's 'The Hustle'

To nominate someone who embodies 'The Hustle' in their work or community, call (313) 833-4727 or visit https://detroithistorical.org/detroit-historical-museum/hustle.