Over spring break, I went on a High Impact Leadership Trip with a group of thirteen remarkable people to Detroit (my hometown) and Chicago. The trip was focused on environmental racism and social justice. We went on a tour of Detroit’s east side with a man named Rich Feldman from the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leader-ship, and what we saw was shocking. As someone who grew up in the Metro Detroit area and has lived in the city itself, I was disturbed that I had never seen what the east side looked like until after I moved to Minnesota. Until this HILT, I was blissfully unaware of the predicament the people are in at the hands of a city I loved so much.
Rich took us to various locations around the east side, but the place I was most saddened by was the abandoned Packard Automotive Plant off of East Grand Boulevard. The plant opened in 1903 then closed after a short period of time in 1958. Now the plant stands alone in a state of decay while homeless people occasionally seek shelter inside, but unfortunately the new owner of the building has asked security to arrest or remove trespassers. Feldman described the plant as a symbol of the rise and fall of the American Dream; what those who are now in poverty could once attain is now unreachable. Not to mention the city of Detroit has put policies into place which only hurts those who are struggling.
Detroit is a marvelous city, vibrant with culture, but majority of the people who live there are struggling due to environmental racism, gentrification, and poverty. The city’s government will build up Midtown by keeping it well manicured to appease the rich white people who come into the city so that they can enjoy going to the Detroit Opera House or luxurious museums without having to be reminded of how hard people actually have it. Passing Telegraph Road into Detroit feels almost as if you’re passing through the doorway to another room; one minute you’re in a majority white middle class area, then the next you see abandoned homes, racial inequality, and poverty. Impoverished communities are not isolated to the Detroit area; this is a problem in urban areas all over the US that an immense number of people ignore.
While driving back to campus, I started to think about the “Concordia bubble” and I realized it’s so much more than just a liberal bubble. The echo chamber in which we reside is chock full of people who are lucky enough to have never had to experience food insecurity or poverty, nor have they ever thought about it. Thankfully, half of these people are not apathetic towards the plight of those living in poverty and are willing to generate discussion; however, the other half have the philosophy of “if it’s not happening to me, then I don’t care.”
Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it’s not a problem to you personally. Privilege is telling someone to “stop talking about that” because you’re tired of hearing people talk about things that actually matter. I’m so sorry people share pictures on Facebook of starving children in the global south and it makes you uncomfortable. I’m sorry it bothers you to see homeless people when you go out with your friends at an expensive bar in a city center. Gosh, you know, it must be such an inconvenience for you to acknowledge the hardships of living people other than yourself.
Just in case you forgot or never knew, it’s a privilege to be apathetic, but this world can no longer afford apathy. This world needs people who care, who are willing to discuss these problems while also offering solutions. Unfortunately like the rest of us, I don’t know the first way to fix these problems, but at least I’m willing to discuss them. We don’t have time for indifference or lack of acknowledgment towards poverty because our fellow human beings living in those conditions deserve our attention as much as they deserve our help. By remaining apathetic, you’re not only contributing to the problem, you are of no help.