Beyond the Superbowl

By Jenny Lee, Detroit Summer Collective member
February 4, 2006

In 1992, a group of community activists coming out of the organization Save Our Sons and Daughters began organizing against the idea that casino gambling could save Detroit. At that time, the city was reeling amidst a shattered economy, crack ravaging the neighborhoods and an epidemic of youth on youth violence in the streets. Then mayor Coleman A. Young challenged the anti-gambling activists to go beyond merely protesting the construction of casinos and to answer the question: if not casinos, what kind of development could save our city?

Detroit Summer was created as an experiment in answering that question. If given the opportunity, could young people transform their communities and themselves at the same time, through projects such as urban gardening, mural painting, house rehabilitation, block parties, and community dialogue?

As the Superbowl XL and all the development projects related to it come to town amid promises that top-down corporate-led development will save our city, the question of what kind of development can rebuild Detroit remains as vital today as it was thirteen years ago.

Untold taxpayer dollars are being used to subsidize Superbowl XL and refurbish the facades of abandoned buildings. Homeless people are becoming casualties in a war over downtown's public space. Materialism is the reigning value professed through sky-high billboards. And amidst the frenzy of buying and selling spawned by the Superbowl, many have pointed out that Black-owned Detroit businesses have not received a just share of Superbowl-related contracts.

This model of development, advanced by corporate investors and city officials will take power further and further away from the people of this city in determining our future. And it's happening very fast. We need to come together and ask the questions: what kind of economy will be relevent and sustainable in our communities? What kind of schools must we build to address the current drop-out crisis? What kind of culture do we want to shape our relationships with one another, our relationships to the earth? Most importantly, how can we center the needs, interests and imaginations of young people in all of the questions we are asking about the future?

After the tourists leave, when there are no more free shuttle buses or parties for the homeless and all the storefronts stuffed with overpriced Superbowl merchandise are re-abandoned, will we feel like we have been rescued or ravaged?

This city knows what it is to be ravaged. It offered up the land and multiple generations of workers to fuel one of the country's most crucial industries. When the factories pulled out they took their power and their profits with them. We know that the NFL will do the same, no one expects otherwise. But will Compuware? Will the casinos? When the tax abatement honeymoon ends, and Detroit is no longer profitable to them will the corporations stick it out, 'try and make it work' and stay here just for the love of the city? Or will they move on to the next young thing?

Whichever way it goes, we can be certain that Detroit will continue to suffer if we stake our future on the promises offered by politicians and corporate leaders. We can not rely on any industry, election or benevolence from the suburbs to come to our rescue. We have to find ways of addressing the immediate needs of our communities while also advancing our visions of sustainability, justice and self-determination. We have to respond to the disasters at hand and begin to build the kind of world we want to live in simultaneously.

Join Detroit Summer the second thursday of every month for a community potluck and dialogue at the CCNDC Community Center, 3611 Cass Ave., where we will continue this discussion around the future of our city.

This writing was inspired by conversations with Grace Lee Boggs, Ron Scott, Maureen Taylor, Jackie Victor and the Detroit Summer Collective in the days before the Superbowl XL.