This week in a Missouri city on the other side of the state, a scenario unfolded which reverberated around the nation. As I watched online, I could not help but think about an experience in my own life, in late July 1967, in Detroit. My parents, two older
siblings and I celebrated my Dad's birthday by attending an evening outdoor music concert. The summer air was hot, and as we drove home in our car, windows rolled down, someone in a passing vehicle suddenly shouted "There's riots in Detroit! There's riots in Detroit!" The bloody and violent "12th Street Riot" resulted in 43 deaths and over 1,000 wounded; the worst such incident in the 20th Century until the Los Angeles Riots in 1992.
At the age of nine, those five days of the Detroit riots marked me in ways I still cannot understand. So many memories faded away, but I still remember relatives from all over the nation calling my parents to make sure we were OK. In my mind I can still see the pictures of burning buildings on the front page of the newspaper, and the images of violence on the news at night. I have vivid memories of National Guard snipers on business roof tops on the main street at the end of my block, and National Guardsmen in jeeps riding up and down my street with rifles at the ready. And I clearly recall the fear my parents felt - palpable fear. As a child I was too young to understand.
The Detroit of today is so different from the Detroit of 1967. After decades of decay and population loss many of the buildings and homes built during the early part of the 20th century are gone, replaced with empty lots and trash. The media today seems to love to write about Detroit's historic bankruptcy and "ruin porn". It seems impossible for anything good to come out of all the bad.
And yet, pockets of hope sprout up all over the city. The Kerner Commission's report in 1968 found the lack of economic opportunity in urban areas to be one of the causes of the unrest across the country. Focus:HOPE, founded in Detroit after the riots, continues to offer job training and advocacy for Detroit residents. Organizations such as Keep Growing Detroit and The Greening of Detroit plant trees and build community and school gardens throughout the city, providing access to fresh food and revitalizing nature in many neighborhoods. The Detroit Greenways Coalition and other organizations strive to create more greenways and public green spaces for all to enjoy.
As in other urban areas, wildlife is returning to the city, including hawks, which I never saw in all my years there. Beavers returned to the Detroit River after decades of absence. Mother Nature is a prominent part of the plans for Detroit of the future, and Detoit is poised to be a leader once again, but this time as a leader in revitalizing an urban area by including nature in the mix.
I left Detroit 15 years ago and rarely return. It's painful to watch my home town
go through so much trauma... and yet I have crazy ideas about going back and turning some of those emtpy lots into the swamps and marshes which originally existed there. This week, as I watched the scenario unfold on the other side of Missouri, I cannot help but reminisce - and hope - that people will work together to bring peace, and that Mother Nature will be a part of their pathway to healing.