Venture Travel, History, Special Segment

Different Set of Lens: Black History Month Trip to Detroit

I’m cruising on the passenger side along the highway from Detroit Metro Wayne County airport en route to our Airbnb, observing the outside scenery through the window of the newly arrived state. I open the States Visited app on my phone, checking Michigan off the list. “In the Detroit area, you’re going to drive through many towns,” my good friend, Courtney Banks-McLaughlin, stated.

Malcolm X’s childhood home in Inkster, Michigan; Photo Credit: The Exclusive Press

We now entered Inkster. The city welcomed us with the “Welcome to Inkster. Childhood home of Malcolm X”. The sign plastered my vision like a 5-second ad on a flashing billboard. “Childhood of Malcolm X’s home” resonated in my mind. I learned about Malcolm X through my father, an avid fan of his speech. My father embedded his teachings in my siblings and me at an early age. It was to the point that I did a high school research project on Malcolm X. I was surprised to find out about his childhood home in the Detroit area. I eagerly told my friend I must visit Malcolm X’s childhood home before leaving Detroit.

Comerica Park home of MLB Team, Detroit Tigers; Photo Credit: The Exclusive Press

My visit to the city came about as my good friend’s mother invited me to her 60th birthday celebration. The February cold was unbearable for this Southern woman to fathom, but I made it a mission to make my trip worthwhile. We visited Malcolm X’s childhood home a few days into the trip. Walking through the snow, I glaze at the shabby unkempt home. “Real Nigga” spray painted on the back of the house. Behind the dilapidated home was a treasure, enriched history where a prominent figure of the Civil Rights Movement once lived.

Our next visit was to the Motown Museum. The well-kept white two-story house with blue trimmings resembles a typical neighborhood home. Inside this home was a treasure that represented the face of the city’s history. A place that changed the culture of black music – created musical hits the world tune to, broke musical barriers, and influenced today’s black music.

I got to experience the stories my friend shared of Detroit families’ social parties. It was riveting to be in the presence of the Detroit social life – music, food, laughter, and joy to tune out the world’s affairs.

My trip ended with me connecting with family on my father’s side – visiting family in Detroit and attending church services at the family’s church in Livonia, Michigan. I was immediately welcome, even by church members not related to me treated me like family. It gave me an Alex Haley’s Roots experience, connecting with families.

Detroit is infamous for its automobile industry. The city experienced the height of its vibrancy as many black families migrated there in the early-mid 20th century. Once a booming town experiences an economic downfall and drastic population decline in the aftermath of automobile companies moving overseas. 

The left-behind residential and commercial properties represent the vibrancy of its once glorious days. The city that experienced a vast downfall was a city that once thrived. A city of many noticeable abandoned houses was a tale-telling story of the city’s vibrancy of black migrants who once resided in those homes.

Behind all the derelict buildings, I saw a unique gem, just like in Malcolm’s X childhood home. I also saw it, just like I saw in my friend’s lit eyes as she went into a nostalgic moment when touring her childhood home in an old run-down condominium in downtown Detroit. There’s a hidden treasure behind this city. One must open their eyes and see behind the condemned buildings and witness black cultural history, which brings a unique charm and sparkle to the city. 

Detroit is a city I was welcome in with love, where people tear down. The nation may see a declining city with a sense of lost hope and high crimes, but I saw a place where I saw the enriching African American history treasure behind the shabby abandoned homes. My visit was a family-oriented like experience. My good friend introduced me to an area where I felt welcome and loved. It was no coincidence that my profound visit to Detroit was during Black History Month.

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