ESSAY: Detroit’s Struggle To Maintain Its Own Millennials

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John Ray (center). Writer's photo.

The Giant Slide at Belle Isle. Baseball games at Cody. Fairlane Mall. And way too many Bettermades and Faygos.

These are a few of the memories I have growing up in Detroit: a city revitalizing itself one vacant building at a time, drawing suburban companies to the city’s core, and rebranding itself as a hipster haven for millennials like myself.

I never would have imagined not being a resident of my hometown as I graduated from Cass and later the University of Michigan. I had always held an unconditional love for the city that raised me despite the negatives things that were perpetrated by its politicians and residents.

However, as I was nearing the end of my time as a Wolverine I had to make a choice. Do I struggle to find a job in Detroit and hope it’s something I’m interested in or do I pursue an opportunity in Houston? I chose the latter.

I joined the ranks of Teach For America and discovered a booming American city. Houston had very affordable housing, restaurants and bars in every direction, investment in education, and an economy that appeared unaffected by the recession. Despite all of the great things going on in the city and for my career, I made a decision to leave H-Town after a couple of years and return to Detroit. I was presented with what appeared to be a great opportunity to make an impact on education and what better place to do it than in the city that raised me.

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Upon my return I opted to live downtown to witness and enjoy the renaissance emerging. I had a great time in the city’s core, I was able to walk to the riverfront, relax at Campus Martius, enjoy the many restaurants in the area, and happen upon the numerous festivals and activities that occurred.

There were many challenges I faced by moving back to the D. Expensive car insurance, the lack of transit to connect me to the rest of Detroit and its suburbs, non-existent retail, and teaching in a city that didn’t seem to care about education.

After a decision to leave my job, I was forced back into the Detroit’s job market. I scoured job postings, attempted to network, and sent countless emails and resumes everywhere including the city’s biggest employers and education/youth foundations. Two months in and nothing. A few places responded and told me they weren’t hiring while others I still haven’t heard from. I felt defeated. How could it be so hard for a young professional with working experience who was raised in the city, attended the best school in the state and obtained a master’s degree be unable to find a job here?

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I was tired of struggling to break into Detroit’s disappointing economy so I looked elsewhere. As soon as I began applying out of state, I quickly had multiple job offers. Decisions needed to be made. Should I stay in Detroit, in hopes that it was a matter of time before I heard back from an employer? Or should I pursue a career outside of the city I loved so much?

I went with the logical choice and that led me to Baltimore. Charm City, as it’s nicknamed, is very reminiscent of Detroit with its decline in industry, working class population, and dilapidated buildings. But it also offers much more with various job opportunities, reliable inter- and intra-transit, and retail options while still maintaining a cheap cost of living.

But the city also has some real and serious problems it needs to tackle before it can truly attract and retain the population it so desperately needs.

I miss Motown. Most of my friends and all of my family reside in the Motor City. Almost anyone who has lived in the city will describe Detroit as possessing something “special” that can’t be found or replicated in any other city. And that is what I long for. But the city also has some real and serious problems it needs to tackle before it can truly attract and retain the population it so desperately needs.

Does it take people to return to the city to help fix the schools, economy, and increase retail and transit options or do these issues need to be addressed first before people are willing to return to Detroit? In short, is it the chicken or the egg?

Editor’s Note: John Ray is an alum of Cass Tech High School and the University of Michigan. He is currently a management consultant specializing in the education and non-profit sectors. Daily Detroit endeavors to be a platform for conversation and ideas that push Detroit forward. If you’d like to contribute to Daily Detroit, hit up our submission form and get in touch.

4 comments
  • Please sign my Petition to get the NEW Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan to post and coordinate bus systems and schedules at savethefueltax.org

    Without the Michigan Ave bus line having full buses, mass transit will be lost. This bus line connects downtown, the train station and the airport. So, please support my cause to find real solutions to make mass transit work in greater Detroit for everyone.

  • The job situation for US citizens in Detroit is bleak because most employers prefer to hire aliens with H1-B visas. It only costs half as much to hire the foreigners

  • This was very well executed and entertaining. So proud of you Big Cousin and we miss you very much in Detroit but I understand the decisions you made. Hopefully we will see a drastic change soon.

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