Dumas: Respect those who stayed with Detroit

Karen Dumas

Excitement abounds for those who are new to Detroit, a city many of us have championed for years.

Those of us who were not stuck, but stayed, make up a group who stood by Detroit, which was down for far longer than it has been on an upward trajectory. In spite of periodic infusions of hope like Super Bowl XL and piecemeal developments, we knew the city was always capable of being better. It just wasn’t acting like it.

I once wrote about the challenge of trying to find a restaurant downtown, and how a cannon could be shot down Woodward Avenue and not hit anything or anyone.

Everyone else had given up and left, and Detroit was the butt of every joke and the scapegoat for what was wrong with … everything. Even those who ventured “down to Detroit” for an event or game found a way to trash the city, both literally and figuratively, as they returned to their suburban homes. Some Detroiters were stuck here, without resources to relocate, but many of us stayed by choice.

I did, not because I had to but because I wanted to. Long before it was popular to do so. When we began looking to buy a home, the suburbs offered the smartest choice: strong municipal services, a comfortable dose of safety, reduced insurance rates and viable public schools. With two young children, there appeared to be no other choice. But I was a mayoral appointee and could not in my heart be a hypocrite telling others that Detroit was (or could be) great and earning money from its taxpayers while leaving city limits for “home.” I stayed.

Our property taxes were about $20,000 when we first moved into our Indian Village home; insurance was (and remains) incredibly high, we’ve endured a couple of car thefts and garage break-ins and paid private school tuition for two children from preschool though high school. Then there were the quality of life issues — driving quite a distance to shop or take the children to activities that they should have been able to enjoy closer to home. Through it all, I knew the grit of Detroit was nothing to fear and that the city’s potential was as great as those who lived here. The city just needed people who were willing to look beyond the perception. Our commitment to Detroit has been costly. Thus far, it has produced a minimal return.

We hung on to and celebrated every glimpse of improvement and sign of life, hoping the spark would turn into a flame. Now it has. Several landmark occurrences have restored the faith, brought comfort and ignited an interest in a city many thought was forever lost. That is a good thing. But forgive those of us who may be a little fatigued by the burdens we bore in the bad, old days if we don’t seem to share in the fascination of our newcomers. They are learning something that many have known and preached all along — that Detroit is an amazing city, in spite of its flaws, which still exist but are now seen more as intriguing rather than intimidating.

In the midst of celebrating those who are dipping their toes in all things Detroit, and figuring out how to get others to come back, let’s not overlook the few who held on and helped hold this city together, sometimes by a very thin and worn string. We’re still here, too.

Karen Dumas is a PR/communications strategist and former chief of communications for the city of Detroit.