How Motor City is Shifting Gears

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Detroit Skyline | AP

Forget what you think you know about Detroit. It’s more than the birthplace of Motown and home to the Big Three automakers: the Motor City is working to redefine itself from its former glory days as an industrial powerhouse. This city on the rise continues to grow with the help of the incredible people who are the heart and soul of Detroit:

“There’s a lot of amazing humans that are here, that are doing the best they can with what they know and what they have, a lot of energy, a lot of life,” says Amy Kaherl, director of Detroit SOUP, a community-run micro-granting program that supports social entrepreneurship in the city.

My trip to Detroit for my Yahoo! News Cities Rising: Rebuilding America” series allowed me to take a closer look at some of the biggest issues facing the city today, including an illiteracy epidemic plaguing nearly half of the adult population.

“I always say that it’s not just the buildings that got neglected over the last 50 years. The people who lived here did too. The jobs moved away, the educational system kept getting worse and worse,” says Paula Brown, executive director of Reading Works, a nonprofit dedicated to improving adult literacy in metro Detroit.

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With some Reading Works students

I met 77-year-old Isiah Spencer, who decided to learn to read for the first time after his wife passed away. And 56-year-old James Samuel, another student who now reads at a first-grade level. Thanks to Reading Works, James was able to write a love letter to his wife for the very first time.

“You are the best friend I ever had. I love you. You are the best woman that I have ever loved in my life. I would never give you up, never,” he wrote.

The city is facing a widespread education crisis: more than two-thirds of its schools have closed in the past 15 years, creating an even greater need for programs like the InsideOut Literary Arts Project, which uses poetry to help students with their writing, reading and creative thinking skills.

Detroit’s education crisis is intertwined with its high crime rate. According to Forbes, it was the most dangerous city in America in 2015. But police officers are working to build stronger relationships with the community. One way is through the Neighborhood Police Officer program, which gives Detroit’s residents direct access to officers patrolling the streets by sharing the police officer’s cell phone numbers.

And if you missed my Facebook Live, companies like Shinola, a watch, bicycle and leather goods manufacturer, are adding a spark to a city that has long been known only for making automobiles.

Like I said, there’s more to Detroit than you might think — come take a look. Watch:

Written by

Founder, Katie Couric Media. Newscaster: Wake-Up Call. Podcaster: Next Question. Doc filmmaker. @SU2C founder.

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