Saying Goodbye

Since I first started college, I’ve taken every summer off from my studies to recuperate and recharge my mind. This summer was a little different. At the end of winter 2017, I realized I only had one semester left at University of Michigan-Dearborn and I didn’t want to wait till September to start it.

Originally, Film Production was #1 on my list to fulfill my Journalism and Screen Studies (JASS) minor, but with nothing offered in the summer, I had to get a little creative by crafting my own Independent Study.

“You want to be a writer,” I told myself. “So…write!”

Thus, Misc. Adventures Blog was born. That’s right (write?). This is a class! Hahahaha—the great reveal if you didn’t already know.

Am I a little ashamed that I didn’t think I could manage a blog because I’m perpetually tired? Of course I am.

Am I proud I accomplished all that I did within 15 weeks? You better damn believe it. As I scrolled down this blog earlier today, I saw each word like a text to myself saying, “You can do it! You can do it!” with only one goal: to reach the end of the semester.

Now that I’ve reached my goal, I find it difficult to say goodbye. It’s even harder to tell you that after a long day of work and commuting, I don’t have time or energy to create. The problem is, I’ve reached my goal, but I don’t see it as a goal anymore, but only a landmark on a long journey.

I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t say goodbye because I’ve learned to love this. Writing to you. Now I can do it without punishment or incentive, but simply because I enjoy doing it…which I guess, is incentive in itself.

This marks a point of transformation in this blog.

This is the point I take off the façade. Most of the posts leading up to this were designed to follow a syllabus I made for myself. On the whole, I was trying to keep it professional and scholarly (more like faux scholarly?) while shaping my criticism, essay, and journalistic-style writing. Sure, there’s a way to make all of them creative, but to me, it’s especially draining to figure out how.

For now on, I’m going to be less formal (said in my head with a great sigh of relief). For the most part, I’m going to use a conversational-type style that matches more of my creative writing narrator. Though I’ll continue to be professional and scholarly in grad school and at my job, this place is my going to be my happy place that I share with you, the reader.

I plan on posting some poems and maybe snippets of short stories I work on. Hell, I might do prompts on here. I don’t know, but it’s time for a change. I’ll try to keep it up-to-date once a week, maybe more if I have extra time and energy. Overall, I just want it to be more…fun.

Before I go, I just want to thank my professor, Dr. Jen Proctor. Despite her busy summer, she didn’t hesitate when I emailed, asking be my advisor and mentor. Through her guidance, I was able to see what worked and what didn’t…and though I didn’t always have time to give her the A+ work she saw in me, she continued to give me great feedback on how to fix each post to make it the best it could be. I’m proud of what I did, but once I have time to edit my past posts with the suggestions Jen offered, I’ll be proud enough to put it on my professional writing resume.

Besides helping me, Jen assisted at a youth photography camp, and released a major project: http://www.editmedia.org/ with a mission of “researching, developing, and educating about best practices in inclusive teaching in college-level media production.” Check it out. It’s really amazing what she and a group of other professors accomplished. In this midst of the release of this project, she still made time for me and I will never forget that.

Anyway, it’s about 1 a.m. and I need sleep. Thank you to everyone who came along for the ride, even if you were shy. I’ll be writing (and reviewing and photographing and filming) more soon. I hope you stick around!

Peace,

~Michelle L. Stone

University of Michigan-Dearborn Anti-Hate Rally: A Vigil for Heather Heyer

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DEARBORN, Mich.- A vigil for healing and solidarity brought nearly 200 people to the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus last Wednesday. In a peaceful effort to bring the community together, students organized the event in memory of Heather Heyer, who was murdered by a white nationalist in Charlottesville, VA. on Aug. 12.

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Many in attendance saw this as an opportunity to be a voice against the intolerance and hatred perpetrated by radical right hate groups. One such voice belonged to Pastor Fran Hayes of Littlefield Presbyterian. Along with Imam Mohammah Elahi, Pastor Hayes served as a representative of the religious community which condemned white supremacy and preached a message of unity.

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“Have we made progress? Yes. But there is resistance and if we are silent, we are complicit and we are not changing things.”

Before passing the mic, Pastor Hayes challenged the crowd to engage meaningful conversations with people who are different, and commit to work together to build a better future.

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As the sun began to set, candles were lit in memory of Heather.

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“Illuminate their hate. Illuminate their fear,” an alumni said.

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After several officials (U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, State Rep. Abdullah Hammond, and Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly) had their chance to speak, the mic was handed over to students.

One recent UM-Dearborn graduate, Micho Assi, took the mic and tearfully told her story of struggling with her identity as an immigrant and her identity as an American. (I found a video here from The Arab American News for anyone interested. This young woman blew me away and I recommend the watch.)

“How do you define an American?” she said. “Where in the constitution can I find whether I am less or more American than someone else?”

“Heather wasn’t the first victim of white supremacy in this country, and she will not be the last.

We need to remember that the world suffers a lot, not because of the violence of bad people, but because of the silence of good people. We are gathering tonight to break the silence in order to break the cycle that happened throughout history.”

Heather died doing what we’re doing now, I thought to myself and clutched my candle. The fire of hate was ignited with tiki torches in Charlottesville–but the fire of justice was ignited  the same time, twice as bright in the hearts of those who seek equality.

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Mortality: A Reflection on Suicide and Spirituality

It was midnight mass on Christmas Eve 2010 when I first came to God. Sure, I went to Catholic schools from kindergarten to third grade, but I never understood, so I never believed. At that time, I was living downtown—almost always chronically drunk and clinically depressed.

“I’m spiritual, but not religious,” I would respond when the topic turned to theology at a party.

My life centered around a midnight shift bagel-baking job that only permitted me a daily hour of sunshine and even less time to socialize. My day was dark and after months of loneliness, the darkness seeped into my mind.

On the night of December 24th, I felt like I was shrouded in a black veil that was smothering me. I wanted to escape—from my apartment, my body, my monotonous and torturous life. I got into my car and started to drive aimlessly with one goal: Escape.

Soon, I found myself in my old neighborhood. I tried reliving happy memories, to escape into the past, but I felt nothing. My car continued to propel me forward. It was then, when I passed the church. Despite being 11:30-ish p.m. the little chapel was lit up and people were walking inside. Looking at the cross on top, it was the first time in a while I felt something besides anxiety and misery. It felt like an invisible lasso pulled me into the parking lot.

I left my car and heard the music from inside the church pouring out. It was like a beckoning choir of angels, and with each step, the veil of darkness that plagued me was lifted more and more. When I entered, I didn’t see the packed pews, but only the crucifix that hung on the wall in front of me. It seemed as bright as a thousand suns and suddenly that light filled my heart, casting away sorrow and replacing it with inexplicable joy—and with it a small, calm voice saying,

“Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”

I was transformed in that moment and knew that Jesus had saved my life. I promised to Him that I would do anything in return. Little did I know, that promise would shortly lead me to be homeless for seven months.

~~~~

Following my supernatural experience with the Alpha and Omega, I began to greedily devour the Holy Bible as if it was my only sustenance. This centuries old once-boring text to me became a living, breathing mouth of God.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” (Luke 4:18-19) I read.

“Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me’,” (Matthew 19:21) I read.

But it was Matthew 10 that resonated with me most, compelling me to become a self-proclaimed missionary. After reading it, the invisible lasso that first led me to Christ, began to pull me towards the road. I knew I had to leave everything from my old life to truly begin my new spiritual life of trusting God.

Without telling anyone (sorry friends and fam), I took my car and left Detroit. I traveled wherever the Spirit brought me. From northern Michigan, to Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and finally, to Missouri. I crashed on couches, slept in my freezing car, received a free room provided by a church-going hotel owner, and was even given a week’s stay in a religious couple’s cottage. With less than $500 and limited resources, I had to trust God completely and He never ceased to amaze me. In turn, I ministered everywhere I went.

At times, “ministering” meant telling people my testimony, other times it simply meant listening to someone’s story. I encouraged church leaders in their faith as I told them my miraculous encounters and knowledge of Bible passages that I haven’t even read yet. The Spirit moved with me and through me, proving itself to be a beacon of light no matter where I went.

I found myself in several shelters along the way, but it was the one in Des Moines, Iowa that impacted me most.

The common room was the dining room, with a wall of ragged couches separating four long tables. Each occupant received a locker and bunk in a crowded room that slept about 30 people, including some loud snorers.

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It wasn’t an unusual scene to see people mumbling nonsense to themselves. Not a week went by without someone having a mental or physical crisis. Meals were provided daily by volunteers, but if something were to happen (say, inclement weather or an unforeseen accident) there were times we didn’t receive dinner at all.

The shelter wasn’t a good place, but it was filled with good people. One such person was Merlita. That wasn’t her real name but, to protect her identity, that’s what I’ll call her.

Merlita had a meek beauty. She wore modest blouses buttoned to the base of her long neck and never wore makeup- her rosy lips and dark lids didn’t need it anyway.

Merlita was quadriplegic and didn’t know a word of English.

Every day I watched as she would sit at the end of the table in her wheelchair and pour over her Spanish Bible, just as I was doing with my English one. I formed an unspoken bond with her, wondering how God was communicating through the Word.

Shortly after arriving, I discovered I could volunteer at the shelter to avoid getting kicked out during the day. The perks were: I didn’t have to wander around on the street until the library opened, and I wouldn’t have to go through the long check-in and search procedure to get back in for the evening. My main job was sweeping and mopping the women’s dorm and stripping beds of people who hadn’t come back in X amount of days.

After a couple hours of chores, I would plop down at one of the long tables and draw, write, read the Bible, or make jewelry—something I learned along my journey from a stranger I stayed with who gave me all the materials I needed.

At the end of the table, there the unmoved Merlita sat reading her Bible. I tried asking her what passage she was reading but she smiled politely and shook her head. Feeling some need to show her that I cared, I pulled out my jewelry kit, and went to work.

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The earrings I made were similar to the ones in the picture above, except mine had simple gold crosses. When I gave them to her, she beamed at me and slipped them on.

~~~~

One day I didn’t see Merlita in her usual spot at breakfast. Breakfast became lunch, lunch became dinner.

“Did you hear about the wheelchair lady?” a friend said at dinner. “She got hit by a train.” He had such a dark sense of humor. It wasn’t until the next day when I heard the guard talking about Merlita’s funeral that I realized it was true.

I stripped the beds as usual, except this time, Merita’s bed was on my list. I saved it for last and cried the whole time I pulled the blankets off.

Did she kill herself? The article about her death said she did. How could such a good Christian kill herself?

When I pulled away the sheets, my heart dropped. A single earring I made for her was on the bed.

Did she plan for me to find this, knowing it was my job? Was this her farewell…her suicide note since we had no other way to communicate?

That moment shook me.

So much so that I didn’t write anything about it in the eight journals I kept during my travels. Because I feel like I’ve grown more mature in my faith and understanding of mental illness, I can now reflect on what happened.

~~~~

According to a study from North Carolina University on homeless suicide, “The percentage of study participants reporting suicide ideation and attempt was much higher than that reported by the general population,” (71).

The study concluded that when a person experiences prolonged homelessness, existing problems such as mental health problems and physical pain is amplified and increases the risk of suicide (61).

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“Alarmingly, scant research exists on suicide behavior among homeless individuals,” (1). I believe this is the first problem that needs to be addressed. The lack of research shows a lack of attention to some of the most poor and downtrodden in our nation. If there is a trend of people dying we need to figure out why in order to prevent it.

I don’t know if Merlita had depression before becoming homeless, but being a disabled immigrant might have contributed to the risk of her suicide. She had no support or anyone to talk to. The shelter never reached out, at least not from what I saw or experienced first-hand. She spent most of her time completely isolated and I wouldn’t doubt she saw the small building as a prison.

~~~

A few weeks ago, I talked to a devout Christian about depression and whether a believer should take anti-depressants. Discussion turned into argument when he implied that a Christian who suffers from depression is weak in faith. When I told him that the mental disorder is a disease, much like diabetes, he shook his head and blamed it on the person who dwelled on negative thoughts that demons can manipulate. I was angry. Nobody should be shamed for an imbalance of chemicals in their brain. I saw it as a way for him to feel superior in his faith and I called him out on it. God tests us all differently, and whether depression is our cross to bear, a Christian should not judge whether a person is too unfaithful to fight it, but rather, help lighten the load if possible.

Throughout redemption history there have been many Biblical figures who have struggled with depression: David, Elijah, Jonah, Job, Moses, and Jeremiah. Even Jesus was prophesied as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” (Is. 53:3).

Just check out His time in the garden of Gethsemane just before being arrested and executed:

And He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.’ And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. And He was saying, ‘Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.‘” Mark 14:34-36

Suffering brings us closer to God. It allows us to call on Him for help. It allows us to feel solidarity with all the rest of aching humanity. How we treat others in that moment reveals who we are, not the suffering itself. But what if the suffering is too much to handle? It’s easy to say, “God only gives you what you can bear,” but the reality is a clinically depressive state can make you hopeless enough to make you take your own life. Maybe as Merlita rolled onto the tracks, she saw it as an escape from her dark world and broken body, and felt it would hurry her towards Jesus–her only friend. Believe what you will—I believe I will see Merlita in heaven.

The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015): A Film Review

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Scientists sometimes feel like they must push ethical boundaries in order to discover an objective, empirical truth. Psychologists–behavioral and mental scientists–are among those who might perform questionable tests to better understand the human condition. In 1971, such a psychologist named Philip Zimbardo created a study called, The Stanford Prison Experiment. With a grant from the U.S. Office of Naval Research, Zimbardo was able to pay 24 students to simulate a realistic (and hostile) prison environment. Instead of lasting the initial two-weeks, the abusive atmosphere of the “Stanford County Prison” became so out of hand, the experiment had to be terminated in six days.

What was the purpose?

According to Zimbardo in a documentary,

“I was interested in what happens when you put good people in an evil place. Does the situation outside of you, the institution, come to control your behavior, or does the things inside of you- your attitude, your values, your morality- allow you to rise above a negative environment?”

There have been several documentaries based on Zimbardo’s book and research, and although I’ve seen two of them, it was the 2015 full-length feature film that captivated me most. It brought to life the story I read in ‘Intro to Psych’ class that made me interested in the field. The abuse of power and evil of domination displayed in the experiment can not only be applied to prison, but also situations in war and abusive relationships.

So, what made the feature film version stand out more than the actual footage?

The feature film is much more personal and intimate. Instead of hidden camera footage with a narrator or Dr. Zimbardo voiceover, we are thrown right into the action, so close that we can see welling tears and trembling hands. You get the idea of emotional and physical torture the boys go through in the documentary, but you experience the torture in the feature, which is filled with such persistent bullying that two hours feels like the six long days the students participated. It is grueling to watch because you share in the prisoners’ humiliation but done so well that it is hard to look away.

I think what makes this film so successful is the superb acting.

The first character who caught my attention was Daniel aka Prisoner 8612 (Ezra Miller). After being mock arrested, his carefree disposition turned solemn as a blindfold was placed over his eyes. He continued to take the experiment lightly, as if it were a game, until he was stripped naked. This scene really allowed Miller to shine as an actor, revealing the fear and vulnerability his character wasn’t prepared for. Although 8612 wanted to play a game, the environment was very real.

8612’s First Encounter with the Guards

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Moments Later After the Guards Follow Directions to Strip Him

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Miller was the perfect actor for the role, showing two extremes of reaction in a hostile environment. From leading a violent resistance against the guards to reaching his emotional breaking point after realizing he has no power, I think 8612 was symbolic for the oppressed who grieve their freedom.

Another actor I enjoyed watching was Billy Crudup (Watchmen, Almost Famous, Big Fish), who played Dr. Zimbardo.

What this film was able to do that the documentaries could not, was provide the real-time perspective and reaction of the project overseer.

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At times, Zimbardo seemed like a mad scientist who was willing to sacrifice everything to get results. He even intervened and became a part of the experiment as Superintendent, encouraging the guards to use aggressive tactics to break apart alliances between the prisoners. Despite his obsessive behavior, he was also humanized as he watched in horror how quickly the guards accepted the role of abusers. His perspective also added depth to the story, allowing the viewer to step away from the action and become a passive observer like the researchers behind the cameras.

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The Stanford Prison Experiment strives as a piece of historical fiction, prompting the viewer to go out and learn more about the notorious study. After finding the short documentary below, I came to learn that the dialogue was almost entirely verbatim from real life.

 

It’s “about 90 percent accurate,” Dr. Zimbardo was quoted in an American Psychological Association article in reference to the feature film. The 10% inaccuracies include: the unseen part of the experiment where prisoners were “processed” at a real police department. The students were also paid $20/day, not $15/day as the film suggested.

Despite criticism of the experiment (claiming that it was inconclusive because the subjects knew they were being recorded and performed the roles in stereotypical ways to satisfy the researcher), I think there is a lot to learn from this film. It was stressed throughout that the prisoners were losing their identity, but I think it’s important to remember that the guards didn’t have names either– Besides the bad guard known as “John Wayne” for his roughness, the rest were called “Mr. Correction Officer.” Their “unified singular authority” made them a single entity, controlled by the most dominant. The guards no longer felt individually responsible for torturing, but found themselves in a position where they could blame the role or group for the atrocities within the mock prison.

In the end, this is a film that raises more questions than it answers: When fate gives an authoritarian sadist power, is there a way to resist? How far should we push humans to test emotional breaking points? Are our actions motivated internally or externally? If you’re ready to watch the worst of humanity for two hours and think twice as long, The Stanford Prison Experiment is for you. Now available on Netflix.

Examine Dem Shorts! Zygote: The Monster that Gained the Upper Hand

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According to the Webster-Merriam dictionary, a zygote is a “cell formed by the union of two gametes; the developing individual produced from such a cell”– basically, it’s the stage of reproduction when two things become one. In a short 22-minute film with the same name, human and monster become one, creating a suspenseful sci-fi horror flick fun for whole family! Just kidding about that last part…do not show this to your kids.

Zygote was made by South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp, known for creating District 9 (favorably), Elysium, and Chappie (less favorably). The short is part of a film project produced by Blomkamp’s Oats Studio as a way to experiment with ideas and test audience reactions for potential feature films. I haven’t seen the three other shorts in this Volume 1 collection, but I would definitely pay to see a longer, more developed adaptation of Zygote.

Some critics have compared this short to a combination of The Thing and Alien. In an interview, Blomkamp’s responded to the questioned influence:

Probably more The Thing for this particular film. Its DNA is a kind of ‘80s leviathan, science fiction horror.

Personally, I would say it’s more like a galactic-zombie Frankenstein combo.

The story begins in an asteroid mine located in the Arctic Circle. The mine is owned by Cerebus Minerals, a wealthy corporation gleaning from the mysterious resources inside the asteroids. We learn quickly that an accident occurred, taking the lives of 98 members of the crew and leaving only two survivors. With limited supplies and a horrific monster hunting them down, Barklay (Dakota Fanning) and the blinded Quinn (Jose Pablo Cantillo) must hurry to safety before they are absorbed.

There are many things I liked about this film, but my favorite element was the character design of the monster. It looked like something out of a Resident Evil game– horrifying yet mesmerizing to watch. It was an amalgamation of countless arms and eyeballs collected from the crew, occasionally screeching, occasionally groaning in multiple voices. The Zygote creature was the thing of nightmares. Apparently, that’s what Blomkamp had in mind when he first conceived this film.

I don’t know what made me think of it, but I wrote down “a monster made out of men.”

This is typically the point I would add a picture of the monster, but I’ll let your imagination play until you see the reveal in the short film.

Another component of this film I enjoyed was the setting. Even though the monster was slow-moving, the tight and dimly lit corridors of the mines provided a claustrophobic and suspenseful element to the action.

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Dakota Fanning was a great choice for the role of Barklay, the female protagonist. I reviewed a film a couple months ago called Brimstone starring Fanning and I’m glad to see her frontier film wasn’t just fluke. She really is talented– her use of body language helps her to steal the screen, even when she doesn’t have any dialogue.

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One thing that didn’t really work for me was the execution of the exposition. In the first five minutes Quinn basically tells spouts out everything at once- what’s chasing them, how it was created via experimentation and mysterious ET stuff, where they need to go, and a little social class discussion. There’s a lot of info. Granted, this is a short film so I understand it was probably best to get all of that out of the way, but it just happened very quickly. I imagine if Blomkamp does decide to make this into a feature he could definitely stretch this foundation out for a solid hour of showing, instead of telling.

Welp, that’s all I got. A bunch of Youtube commenters think there’s a glaring plothole at the end. I was too satisfied to bother with such a trifle. Anyway, here’s the film. What do you think of the ending?

A Portrait of Childhood in Poverty

While many can visit their childhood homes and reminiscence of happy times, I recently returned to mine and found nothing but a barren plot of land and memories just as desolate. It’s not that growing up in Brightmoor (aka Blight-moor), Detroit was all bad…I do have some fond memories, but looking back they were from the optimistic and naïve perspective of a child. Over the years I’ve taken off my rose-colored glasses and replaced them with gray shades that can more clearly see what is blindingly clear. As I gaze at the green field before me, my thoughts turn to the past.

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When I was around 6 or 7, a huge storm hit. After the tempest calmed, I watched from our covered porch as neighborhood kids ran through the flooded street. I joined the group in the waters– it reached my knees. After a moment of splashing with glee, I noticed a huge heap of loose garbage clogging the sewer drain. Moving closer, I saw a syringe poking from the pile. Of course, my child mind didn’t think of drugs or disease, but rather my fear of the doctor drove me out of the garbage pool and back home. I probably should have warned the other kids, but they weren’t my friends anyway.

~~~

Brightmoor is located on the west border of Detroit right before Redford (“The Gateway to the Suburbs”) and Livonia. If you’ve ever heard anyone mention “the hood,” it’s places like Brightmoor they were talking about, where people occasionally fall asleep to the sound of gunshots.

The streets are lined with dilapidated buildings with chipped paint and wild foliage battling brick for space. One time I even saw a pack of stray dogs emerge from a partially collapsed structure.

My block was Dolphin, just off of Fenkell (aka 5 Mile Rd.) and about a mile east of Telegraph, that great divider.

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For those who kinda/sorta know the area, I lived right across the street from the famous Scotty’s Fish and Chips.

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There were three other white folks on the block, all poor like us. I only say we were poor because my dad drove a car with a 2×8 board for a bumper. My dad implied it was to piss off the police in suburbia:

“They used to pull me over on my way to work every day. ‘Get that piece shit out of Livonia!’ But they couldn’t give me a ticket because it was completely legal.”

Apparently, as long as you put something between another car hitting you and the gas tank, there’s no legal problem.

“I admit we had to tighten our belts a little to pay for you and your sister’s tuition,” my mom said.

As much as my mom likes to deny our poverty, there were other signs. Like how we ate hot dogs so often that I can’t eat pork to this day without getting sick. It’s probably a psychological response, but whatever. There was also that one Christmas we had to get toys donated to us from a church. I remember it fondly because I got a Barney toy.

My first school was a Catholic elementary called St. Christine’s just a few blocks away. Here’s what it looks like now:

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I guess my parents were so fearful of sending us to a Detroit Public School (DPS) that they sacrificed the little extra money they had for our education.

According to Data Driven Detroit:

The shockingly low standardized test scores and graduation rates for students in the majority of DPS schools are a sign of dysfunction across institutions meant to support children. In the context of academic literature on the causes of poverty, Detroit students are held back by failures in both their schools and in their neighborhoods.

My mom understood the importance of education and saw the Catholic institution as the best choice. I did learn the “Our Father” prayer and how to write in cursive. I can’t really remember much else from my time attending St. Christine’s and then St. Gemma’s after the former closed. What I remember most was the persistent bullying.

There was a few white kids in my class and a handful in the school, but I felt alone in every way. I don’t know if it was the horrible handcut-by-mom haircut, my cheap Payless shoes, or being a latchkey kid, but I feel like my classmates saw through my standard jumper and knew I was a poor kid underneath. Besides, I was chubby, awkward, and had to go to speech therapy because I pronounced “th” as “f” until the fifth grade.

I remember during recess, a large group would form a circle and play a game called “Jigolo.” One day, wanting to fit in, I wandered into the ring and watched as people were individually called to the center to dance. After the performer did their motion, the group would imitate. I returned every day, observing and learning the rules, so when I was called, I was ready.

Hey, Shelly!

Hey what?

Are you ready?

For what?

To Jig!

Jig what?

Jigolo!

Oh, my hands up high, my feet down low! This the way I Jigolo!

I don’t know what brought me to do it…maybe a desire to be seen as courageous and cool, but I threw myself on the ground and did the ‘Cry-Baby.’  For those who don’t know what that is, it’s basically dry-humping the ground while slamming your fist.

Here’s a little demonstration:

 

Yeah, it’s already a ridiculous move and with my round belly smacking on the ground, this became our school’s version of the ‘Truffle Shuffle.’ People roared with laughter but never imitated me. I accepted their laughter as approval and kept returning to do the ‘Cry-Baby.’ After a while, it dawned on me that once the circle dispersed, people were still laughing. It wasn’t a game, I was a joke and my name became ‘Shelly Belly.’

~~~

Some other names I was called both at school and in my neighborhood were ‘cracker’ and ‘whitie.’ On Dolphin street, everyone had their own designated name. There was ‘Bigbird,’ ‘Milkman,’ my cool, older sister was ‘Lil Jeni.’

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I was ‘Campbell Soup Girl’

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Okay…I guess I can see it.

 

 

 

 

 

None of the black kids really accepted me (except when I had popsicles to give out) so I turned to Jessica. She was the only white kid my age and she lived directly across the street. I would like to say it was nice to have someone to hang out with, but she had some serious behavioral and hygiene issues.

For one, Jessica’s blonde hair was plagued with lice. Although treatable, her mother never did anything to get rid of it and her infestation became mine. My mom tried so hard to get rid of them, spending valuable dollars on chemicals, but after seeing Jessica pluck one from her hair and flick it into mine, I knew the little parasites crawling on my head weren’t going anywhere.

It was an issue with me until the 5th grade. Every time I got sent home with lice, I felt so betrayed by the teachers as they joined in heaping embarrassment in my life.

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At the age of 7, Jessica was stealing cigarettes from her mom. When she couldn’t sneak a whole one, she grabbed an unfinished butt from the ashtray and lit it. She always tried to get me to join but I refused.

Unfortunately, cigarettes weren’t the only things Jessica would steal. Her sticky fingers always searched my toys and even managed to get my prized Spirograph pen.

A few weeks before Christmas, she left my room to “go to the bathroom” but my ears heard the sound of crumpling paper. She took advantage of my mom’s habit of wrapping presents early, and tried to steal a present by hiding the wrapping under the tree skirt. My mom is a pacifist but I remember fearing she was going to beat my friend when she was caught.

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Jessica’s house now.

Years later, she came to visit our new house in Redford, just a mile down the street. After showing her my computer, we went for a swim in my pool.

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Me and Jessica in Redford.

She pushed me under the water and held me down. I grabbed her wrist and screamed for her to stop, but she continued to try to drown me. Somehow I reached the surface. I never saw her again.

~~~

We moved out of Brightmoor when I was 9 or 10, so around 1999-2000. At that time, a lot of families were leaving.

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According to The Brightmoor Alliance:

“The 2010 population of 23,845 represented a 31.1 percent decrease over 2000’s total of 34,598. This was somewhat higher than the 25 percent loss experienced by the City of Detroit,” (pg. 1).

While it sounds like a ‘White Flight’ kind of situation, according to the same document above, a majority of people that left were African American.

“African Americans, while decreasing in number by 25.4 percent, experienced an increase in their share of the neighborhood’s population from 79.1 percent in 2000 to 85.6 percent in 2010. The second largest group was whites at 10.0 percent, down 56.5 percent in number from an 15.8 percent share in 2000,” (pg. 3).

“Shady people moved in,” a friend of mine said to me. She grew up and continues to live just on the other side of Brightmoor. I’m assuming most were squatters that just stayed.

Even in Redford, I saw a surge in crime and prostitution spilling over the Telegraph border. Here’s a recent crime chart in my old neighborhood. It would seem we got out just in time. And I thought it was bad in my formative years…

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The crime surge led to a huge blight problem in Brightmoor. I remember visiting my old home about five years ago after a family dinner at Scotty’s. It was still there but abandoned and a total eyesore with broken windows and a decaying facade. Out of curiosity (or stupidity), I went inside. It was littered with tattered cloths and had a smell like burning rubber. The only piece of furniture inside was a small end table with ashes and possible drug residue. I walked into the kitchen and was shocked to see a giant hole gaping in the center like a large, screaming mouth. It took me a moment to remember the cellar underneath. Realizing that the house was unsafe, I immediately left.

In 2013, the City of Detroit started a campaign to eliminate the blight.

Commissioned September 27, 2013, the Blight Task Force was tasked with developing a straightforward and detailed implementation plan to take down every residential and commercial building as well as clear vacant land that is blighted and/or not reasonably economically viable in the city of Detroit in as fast a timeframe as possible. The goal of the plan is to dramatically improve the safety of both citizens living near blight and first responders while substantially increasing opportunities for future use of the land in the impacted neighborhoods.

I suppose my old house was one of those taken down in the facelifting project. Of course, I see it as a good thing, but also makes me mindful of the gentrification problem that’s happening in Detroit.

Although I got out of Brightmoor before it got really, really bad, there were many good people that had to stay because they simply didn’t have a choice. While we lived in Detroit, my mom worked and went to school to get a nursing degree. She was able to better our situation, so that we could afford the higher property tax in Redford, but that opportunity isn’t available to everyone.

To those people who stayed, who resisted turning to crime, who now buy up empty lots and turn them into urban gardens, I pray they don’t get pushed out in the beautification process.

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I don’t have many good memories of living in Brightmoor, but I appreciate it for making me the person I am today. Because of my childhood, I understand the great wealth inequality in our nation. Because of my childhood, I understand the great race inequality in our nation. Because of my childhood, I understand the importance of diversity, empathy, and community. Poverty sucks. Let’s end it.

~~~

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