"Detroit's gone through some tremendous transformation. We're hoping that better days are coming. If we don't all have hope, there is no point in being here."
Glimmers of hope—economic hope, at least—have begun flickering throughout the Motor City. Start-ups pushing tech innovation and sustainability have flocked to Detroit, drawing young entrepreneurs from New York City and Silicon Valley. Stik.com moved its headqurters from San Francisco to the M@dison Building (purchased by billionaire Dan Gilbert) recently. A Whole Foods is slated to open in the hip Midtown area early this year.
Among these giants, young entrepreneurial Christians are joining Detroit's slow turnaround. Margarita Barry, a Detroit native, has at age 26 launched three start-ups: 71-Pop, a retail store that carries locally designed clothing and wares; Detroit Design Lab, a web development firm for local nonprofits; and I Am Young Detroit, a website that spotlights other entrepreneurial Detroiters and will this year begin offering them microgrants.
"I want to empower young people to pursue their passions within the city, so they're putting their dollars in the city and creating jobs," says Barry, who came back to Detroit in 2007 after earning her bachelor's degree in Ohio. "You don't have to be a Donald Trump to change Detroit."
Diallo Smith was "bent on making money" as a financial analyst in Houston when, he says, God intervened and redirected him to pastoral ministry. When he and his wife returned for a wedding in 2006, "we both felt God calling us back to Detroit," says the pastor of Awakenings, which meets at the Detroit School of Arts in Midtown. But Smith found that "newer churches in urban centers [face] sustainability issues, because economic realities are different than in the suburbs." To both bolster the downtown economy and offer a unique third space for locals, Smith is launching a table tennis social club, the first of its kind anywhere.
"Imagine Kanye West playing Ping-Pong with Tony Blair with dubstep playing in the back-ground, surrounded by a café and wine boutique—that gives you a sense of what Drive is." Located in a downtown commercial hub, Drive will operate much like a bowling alley, charging visitors per hour per table, or for unlimited membership. Smith says the model is strategic in more ways than one, allowing Christians to form relationships with Detroit entrepreneurs, which is what has happened at Awakenings' art gallery.
"We Christians need to be at the forefront of being imaginative, creative, and innovative in bringing economic viability for cities that are hurting," he says.
The key for Christians, though, will be doing so in a way that rightly remembers their city's history—and their neighbors.
"Newcomers come in without a sense of history and act as though Detroit is a blank canvas," notes Mark VanAndel, pastor of discipleship at Citadel of Faith. Pastor Carey remembers watching Detropia, a new documentary about postindustrial Detroit. "One interviewee said, 'I'm an artist and could never afford to live like this anywhere else; if this doesn't work out, we don't lose anything because we're at the bottom.'
"When he said that, it was like a knife went through me," says Carey. "This is 'the bottom'? You can't imagine the grief a person feels when this is the place that is home."