Jewfro: Ben Voyage
Sometimes you get a job. And sometimes — if you’re lucky and outgoing and patient, but mostly lucky — a job gets you. That’s how I felt six years ago when, amidst grave demographic and economic uncertainty, Repair the World tapped me to engage the Jewish community in Detroit in a way that might turn our shared values into value for Detroiters.
And that’s how I feel now that I’m preparing to transition into my new role as the Corporate Social Responsibility Lead for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA).
When I was 8 years old, we became a GM family. Two weeks after driving my Saturn station wagon back to my parents’ house from New York after college, I met a girl who worked at Ford (and drove a Volvo and did not live with her parents). I wasn’t looking to FCA US to complete a column on some automotive bingo card — and yet, as my next chapter, it feels cumulative and compelling.
When my Grandpa David was on summer break from teaching welding at River Rouge High School, he worked in the plant building Thunderbirds and Continentals and at home building toys in his basement.
Albeit removed by decades and degrees of automation and globalization, I can draw a line from his summers in the city — the work ethic, the drive to create, the sense of place — to mine. He and so many returned to Detroit after World War II and supported the Arsenal of Democracy. I can only hope to honor their legacy and the notion that this will continue to be a place of innovation and inclusion.
Detroit as a company town has been the site of unprecedented prosperity and poverty over the last 100 years. In the next 100, car companies have the opportunity to support diverse economies and communities in Metro Detroit.
As manager of Motor Citizens, the FCA US volunteer program, I will get to bring the “do-ocracy” of Summer in the City, the mentorship of PeerCorps and Repair the World’s commitment to education and food justice to help FCA US employees, locally and across the country, invest their time and talent in building strong, resilient communities.
As noted in the Company’s 2015 Sustainability Report, “The conviction that the Group can and should be an agent of positive change is deeply embedded in the company culture.” Challenge accepted.
Challenges, of course, remain for “Jewish Detroit.” Chief among them, how can we continue to leverage our bonding social capital — that which durably connects us to the kids we went to camp with, those future campers, the elders from our congregations, our tribe — while pursuing the kind of bridging social capital necessary to building relationships, coalitions, families and businesses with our African-American and Muslim-American neighbors?
I look forward to supporting Repair the World and its sister organizations in pursuit of these greater goals.
Fortunately for us, Repair the World has an exceptionally strong local team and a long-term commitment to Detroit by the national organization. The act of repairing, after all, is a process, and the process here is under way at a time when we need it dearly, deeply, daily. Stay tuned for opportunities to learn and serve (and dine) together in honor of Dr. King next month.
The friends, families, partners, programs, allies, advocates and angels are too many to name. The regrets, too few to mention. Instead, I hope we can celebrate together. On Jan. 8, Repair the World will host Ben Voyage, my send-off and 35th birthday party from 4-8 p.m. at the Workshop (2701 Bagley Ave.).
Everyone is invited. Everyone. No gifts, please. None. I’ve never been good at receiving gifts and — notwithstanding the irresistibly clever name coined by Repair the World Fellow Ellie Farber and menu of my favorite things — Ben Voyage is less about me than about us and about all we’ve accomplished and about the possibilities that lie ahead.
In lieu of a gift, please consider contributing to Repair the World’s work in Detroit at werepair.org/donate.
Coat Drive! Check your closet and bring (or send) an extra coat to the party. Repair the World will be collecting dozens (hundreds?) as part of a coat drive to distribute across the city. And maybe — if I’m lucky and outgoing and patient, but mostly lucky — your coats will be as warm to others as you have been to me.