By Craig Considine
I returned back to the hotel in Dearborn, Michigan completely and utterly exhausted. We had just visited the ‘Grand Circus Park’, an area that epitomizes the impoverishment of downtown Detroit. Parts of the city have characteristics of a ‘Third World’ country. Large skyscrapers are completely vacant, with their windows either smashed or non-existent. Its old brick buildings are half in-tact reminiscent of a bombed Dresden, Germany after World War II. In my estimation, three of every five business stores are either empty or boarded up with plywood. Homeless people appear defenselessly sprawled out on its vacuous sidewalks. The atmosphere is so dull and depressing that one wonders if it has any vibrancy or pulse at all. Even a whisper can echo and bounce of the barely standing homes on the deserted streets of Detroit.
As a deeply patriotic American concerned for the well-being and happiness of my fellow citizens, I was baffled that such a historically important city could deteriorate into such a miserably depressed and impoverished environment. How our political leaders could let ‘The Motor City’ slide so deeply into the depths of ‘Third World’ poverty without any large scale governmental intervention to transform conditions on the ground is still beyond my comprehension. Instead of diverging in foreign wars that are arguably of no real threat to our national security, the government could re-appropriate the billions of wasted dollars to help its own American citizens.
We asked Jessie, a homeless African-American, to explain the community’s biggest problems. He noted that anger and hatred were two emotions running rampant throughout the city. Oftentimes, these depressed feelings led directly to violent actions that are direct consequences of the inner frustrations of the city’s residents. Many Detroitians do not have jobs, let alone homes to live in. When I was filming Jessie in Grand Circus Park, he turned around and pointed to a run-down brown van parked along the corner of the street. That was his car, but Jessie is so poor that he uses it as a home for his family. Moreover, the car never moves, for he does not have a job or a steady income to fill the tank with gas. Jessie forecasted potential ‘race riots’ if lines of communication are not opened up sooner rather than later. He warned us that the Muslim population, one that owns many gas stations and local businesses, is especially vulnerable to hatred and violence. All Americans should take his advice, reach out, and embrace the Muslim community and all other groups facing misperceptions. After all, the problems facing Americans belong to us all, regardless of religious affiliation or heritage, yet the poor are continously looked down upon because they cannot help themselves.
The most troubling aspect of this eye opening experience was the notion that these depressing conditions have existed in an endless cycle of poverty for decades now. Both candidates in the 2008 presidential election pledge to ‘change’ the United States of America for the better. If John McCain and Barack Obama are sincere in their pledge, they should journey down to Grand Circus Park as we did to interact in an open dialogue of communication to hear the voices, frustrations, and concerns of some of the poorest Americans in the country. Listening is undoubtedly an effective tool to improve relationships between American citizens and the national government, but direct action must be taken sooner rather than later if Detroit is to be saved from slipping further into a ‘second Great Depression’.
Detroit has been a challenging city to visit, primarily because it has such a vast, diverse, and high concentration of Muslims. We continue to push forward though and look forward to exploring all corners of the city. Stay tuned for our forthcoming blogs as we journey through the heart of Detroit’s Islamic community.