Friday, August 5, 2011

Detroit Serendipity - Pam's take on the week

 Imagine a long hallway. It’s very beautiful. Light and airy, leaving you unexpectedly pleased. Now imagine there is a door at the end of the hallway, and it magically opens on its own accord revealing another beautiful hallway leading to a door that magically opens and another and another and another. As you walk easily down the hallway, each door before you magically opens.

That was how our RASC process went, from the first Facebook post to the closing party last night. Pure serendipity.

On a lovely weekend morning when we all had better things to do, a few of us found ourselves on Facebook. (What else is new, right?) Jenny posted an idea. Within minutes, she had her core team of organizers. Within days, we had a mission statement. Within weeks, we had a project, a web page, and the support of Roeper School. Within months, we had a solid team of volunteers on the ground with tools in hand.

As we proceeded, every time we needed something, it magically appeared. When our guide from Focus Hope said they would like the park to have a tall, visually pleasing structure, Asa Watten '03 – our Prince of the Pergola – stepped into the limelight. Asa had a vision. He seemed to know what he was doing. And we had the good sense to get out of his way and get behind him to take his vision from his creative brain to the corner of Linwood and Kendall. When we needed someone who knew something about gardening, Eric Peterson '95 of the NYC Parks and Recreation Department came aboard. When we needed a smart, go-getter who lives in the area to do the prep work, Amy Voigt '85 said yes when she had every excuse to say no. When digging those damn holes to support the structure became arduous, two young, strong Focus Hope volunteers showed up with exactly the skill set vitally needed. When we weren’t sure if our little project would make any difference to the community, 50 local kids swarmed into the park with their energy and enthusiasm. 

When we needed a truck to haul the wood,
Emery showed up.

When we needed compost,
Pam was there.

Before we even knew we needed a connection
with the most recent alums,
Catherine found us.

We need a few donated flowers.
Look what we got.

Over and over and over again, doors kept opening throughout the entire process.

What we did this week is what my cousin Jackie Victor devotes every single day to doing. From her teenage years on, I’ve known Jackie’s life passion is to revitalize Detroit.  As some of you may know, I’m extremely proud of my cousin’s work in the city, the example she sets by consciously living in Detroit, and the vibrant center of joy that is Avalon Breads which she and her partner Ann created from scratch. Jackie walks the walk - usually at a sprinter’s pace, sometimes at a crawl, but always forward. She’s in Detroit, every day, even, like she recently told me, “when it’s not so fun - in the dead of winter, on frigid days in February when you trudge to your car to discover someone has stolen your hubcaps.” So I figured that Jackie would have full and fair rights to besmirch the RASC project as the frivolous dalliance of out-of-towners descending into the city to spit a drop into the leaky bucket of Detroit.

But she did no such thing. On the contrary, Jackie is hugely supportive of our efforts. Glowingly. Joyously. Welcomingly.

“There is this great kismet about Detroit that the little things you do have a huge impact,” Jackie said to me this morning, before I had even mentioned the serendipity of our project and how much we’ve been pondering the word “impact.”

“Kismet! Yeah, that’s exactly what we encountered,” I said with surprise.

“That’s the thing about Detroit,” she chuckled knowingly. And she told me about a radio piece a few years ago where she wrote, “Detroit is a spiritual city. For no place else that I have visited or lived, cultivates the strength to see the divine within, in quite the same way as Detroit.”

Obviously Jackie had experienced those same magical doors of serendipity we discovered this week on the outwardly bleak corner of Linwood and Kendall.  

[To hear and read Jackie’s full piece entitled “Detroit is a Spiritual City,” check it out here]


  1. You summed it all up exactly perfectly. And thank you for culling through my 101 photos to find just exactly the ones that told the story!