On the eve of the biggest day in the 15-year history of Summer in the City, a day before my thrice-annual haircut, 72 hours prior to starting with the fourth cohort of Repair the World Fellows (the first that’s all Metro Detroiters), a week after the end of the pilot of a PeerCorps b’nai mitzvah summer program, watching Simone Biles show the world, “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles,” I keep rereading this bad poem I wrote in 2010, submitted humbly with annotation:
In the Summer, In the City
Three friends hanging in ’02,
Wanted something good to do,
One of them observed, adroit:
“We love helping in Detroit.”1
Enlist the teens and stave their slouching
Save them from potato couching?
But boring service can be chilling
Not fun, flexible or fulfilling.
Let’s march to the beat of our own drummer
Flock to the city in the summer.
Another said, “not so a-go-go”
First we’ll need a proper logo.
Detroit can seem so very far,
though it’s in our own backyard
Let’s buy ourselves a van of orange
The teens will scream, “Hooray … Hablornge!”2
Graffiti here arrives by night
So by the day, we’ll paint it white
That seems to be working fine
But what about a cool design?3
Hey, little kids, you go away
When we’re done working, you can play.
What if, beneath this sunny weather,
We took some time to play together?4
Vacant lots get overgrown
And weeds bounce back like skipping stones
This land would not just have to harden
If it were a veggie garden.
After each big week’s done brewing
Howzabout some barbecuing?
Detroit good times are oh so hardy
We demand an After Party.
Then something stops us in our tracks
Send campers off with new backpacks
It’s not a goodbye sounding tune
But “good luck — we’ll see you soon.”5
Before the last hoorah harangue
We’ll end the season with a bang
Don’t take my word, ask Bob or Sally
Join Ralph at Friday’s Grand Finale!
Excuse a break from this hilarity
Consider that this isn’t charity
Not us for them, nor you from me.
But the powerful power empowered as “we.”6
- 2002 is starting to seem like a long time ago. One thing I have come to understand and appreciate more and more over the years is “help” that doesn’t amplify the voices of the underserved is pity — and it risks perpetuating the very injustice it seeks to address.
- The MDOT orange van, purchased at auction from a fast-talkin’ auctioneer more than 10 years ago, is still running. In all that time, it hasn’t gotten any easier to rhyme with “orange.”
- This year, Summer in the City partnered with the Red Wings on a hockey-themed mural at the Adams Butzel Recreation Center. Jack Adams was the only person to have won the Stanley Cup as a player, coach and general manager. Chief Justice Henry Butzel was my grandma’s second husband’s first wife’s father.
- Thanks to a grant from Bookstock, every Summer in the City “Play Program” had its own library, and campers read for at least 20 minutes every day.
- This year’s Backpacktacular has been especially meaningful thanks to a partnership with Lyft. Elliot Darvick, one of Summer in the City’s first volunteers, just moved back from California to run the ride-sharing service in Southeast Michigan. In addition to buying the titular backpacks, they donated $10 for everyone who took a Lyft to Finale Friday.
- “We” still feels aspirational in Detroit. The playing field is so uneven and the rate of change changing so rapidly, it’s hard to know what kind of equity the future may hold here. But each summer leaves me optimistic for us.