The stories of Detroit’s comeback are in many ways welcome, especially when compared to the earlier, and naggingly persistent, narrative suffered by all Detroiters for so many years that this city was a has-been, used-to-be great hell hole doomed to manufacture little more than warnings and nightmares for the rest of its endangered existence.
Today, of course, it’s a much different story. Today, in defiance of so many cynics and critics, Detroit is being hailed as America’s Comeback Success story, a community on the rise from the ashes. Except that those who live here are more than fully aware that this rosy narrative, however welcome it may be, is far from accurate. At least so far. So far, Detroit’s Comeback City is the City Within A City comprising mostly downtown and Midtown. A few other trendy – and also heavily white – areas such as Corktown are also on the radar of the New and Improved Detroit.
Now getting up in years, Rev. Holley said he is tightening the focus of his community service efforts to include those issues he feels are the most essential and requiring the community’s most immediate attention.
“I’m 73 years old, and sometimes when you get close to Heaven, you wanna make sure you don’t mess up.”
Top on that list are the city’s young people, too many of whom he believes are wandering aimlessly and are perhaps more at risk than they realize of being left behind as the New Detroit train pulls away from the station into the future. A future without them. The best insurance against such a thing happening is employment, but not necessarily the type of employment that requires the 4-year wait (at least) of a traditional college or university, or even the two-year wait of a community college.
Holley is focusing on what some might refer to as ‘the least of these’, those youngsters who have all but fallen through the cracks. Because as Detroit rises, they must be empowered to rise along with it. Holley got the idea to create his new training facility listening to talk about all the new restaurants and hotels that were either already being built or on their way to being built in the city.
“I wanted to know who’s going to serve them?” he said.
“Understand that there are so many new restaurants and hotels that are coming to Detroit. And the demand [for workers in those fields] is greater than the supply. Right now we need to get ready for this. People have to go to Schoolcraft to get this program. Not anymore. We’re gonna have it right here in the city of Detroit.”
“What we’re trying to do is this; these young people, many of them don’t want to go to four-year schools or two-year schools. They really want a job right now. They’ve been waiting for so long. What we’re trying to do is new programs that we feel like offers jobs right now. For example, our goal is to have a cosmetology school. For second-chance students, those that have dropped out from the age of 14. Over 7,000 students in the City of Detroit, have dropped out of high school. From the ages of 14-21. So you have a high illiteracy rate. In other words, Detroit is moving, but Detroiters are not moving with Detroit. And somehow, some kind of way, we have to [find a way to] get jobs so people can indeed stay in the city of Detroit. We can complain about taxes, we can complain about mortgages, we can complain about rent and all of this, but if we don’t have jobs, and get prepared for these jobs…? …I cannot, in good conscience, sit by and continue to see this city going without us.”
“We also gotta understand we have to deal with the people who really are not gonna go back to college. They’re not gonna go back to high school. They’re not gonna go back to reading and math. We gotta do something with their hands. And this is why I’m saying cosmetology. Here we are, the hair capital of the world, and don’t have a cosmetology school in the city of Detroit? And we call ourselves hair capital of the world? We have to go to Schoolcraft College to have culinary and hospitality [training]? It doesn’t make any sense.”
Holley says the training academy will only be able to accept a total of 150 students to begin with in the first semester, which means whoever is interested must apply quickly because this will primarily be a first-come-first-served operation. Those interested can apply now at Considine Family Life Center, located next to Little Rock Baptist Church at 8904 Woodward Avenue. Although the school building’s location is secured, Holley says he prefers not to divulge that information yet.
But what he is more than willing to divulge is his call out to some of the city’s better known benefactors to contribute to this effort that will extend beyond downtown to where most Detroiters actually live. He also said that the project will be done in partnership with Wayne County Community College.
“Somehow some kind of way that the Penske’s, and the Gilberts, those people like that, they have got to help us. They must help us. In other words, it causes us to be angry, but we take this anger and we turn it into something positive.
“And this is what I’m living to do, is trying to make sure we give these young people options. And this is what I think this first school of hospitality and culinary is going to offer. We’re putting about $1 million into this school. The kitchen itself will be designed to handle 150 kids. But I need people to understand you can’t wait until the last minute. You’re only gonna have 150 seats open for September.”
What it comes down to, said Holley, is that in this new day that we’re all trying to negotiate and figure out, the best bet for surviving the next eight years and beyond is self-reliance and initiative.
“We can’t expect somebody to come in here and give us entitlement. Entitlement’s days are over. Obama days are over. If we didn’t get it during those eight years, I can certainly tell you you’re not gonna get it for the next eight years. I can’t wait for another president. I got to do what I got to do right now,” he said.
“We got to change the culture [for young people]. Right now they’re planning their funerals and not their future, and we got to turn that around.”