'Why I Hate Detroit' writer: the walls are higher in the hood

Eric Thomas' blog on LinkedIn ignites conversation about Motor City

By Evrod Cassimy - Reporter/Anchor, Halston Herrera - Digital news editor, Gillian Cruce - Intern

DETROIT - Eric Thomas' blog titled "Why I hate Detroit" has ignited a passionate discussion about the city's so-called renaissance.

"Let’s start with the largest elephant in the room and work our way down. Detroit has very low opportunity for people that live here. Not none, just very minimal," Thomas writes. 

The Detroit native posted it Monday on his LinkedIn page, and it already has more than 60,000 views. 

It's been shared countless times on social media and has garnered both supportive comments and criticism:

"Replace hate with love and I'll read the article." 

"Very poignant article. From my side of the fence, it's taboo to speak poorly of Detroit within my own circles because, growing up in the wealthy suburbs and never living in the city proper, we get to cherry pick the Detroit we see– one that is only made of the "good parts," fabricated in large part by Dan Gilbert. Try to mention any of the real problems and it's almost as if no one believes me..."

Thomas sat down with Local 4 for an interview to talk more about why he wrote the blog, and why he says the sentiment he wrote about is one he's been sharing for more than a decade. 

“I hate Detroit because of how complicated it is and how difficult it is for people who are from here to find opportunity. It’s complicated based on the environmental situation to escape the inner city and poverty. I say that the walls are higher in the hood. They are harder to see over and harder to get out of," Thomas said. 

Growing up in the city

I grew up on Joy Road and Greenfield in a very low income neighborhood where we didn’t have our grass cut, we have blighted homes now. I am 28 now. I moved out of that neighborhood when I was 25, so it affected me for my entire life.

I still live in Detroit, I just moved closer to downtown, but I am still here.

Growing up I watched young kids with great aptitude fall victim to the allure of the street or lose motivation due to how difficult it was to find opportunities to find jobs. When you know a young kid in the third grade reading at a sixth grade level, but now he doesn’t have job opportunities. That’s not his fault. He looked for opportunities, they just weren’t there for him to grab onto and that’s the kind of stuff that I hate, it drives me crazy.

I know when I was going to school -- my school is closed now like many others -- on Joy Road and Coyle, I went to Parkman Elementary and we weren’t allowed to take our books home. I remember that very vividly, because I was thinking that we had to take our books home for homework. It kind of defeats the purpose not being allowed to take your books home, but I was validated when I saw a few other people comment. I had one guy comment, ‘I didn’t know that you were even supposed to take your books home’, so this isn’t a story that is just specific to me, this is a region wide deficit, that’s screwed up.

In the past when the Motown era was big, a lot of people grew up with pianos in their homes and they mentioned in a book that there was such great art in the city. Art and music was encouraged. Now, if you go to learn to play the piano, I even have a piano in my home, I learned to play piano outside of the city and most people have a similar experience.

If you don’t have the opportunity or the resources to go out of the city to play the piano, where do you learn? It is frustrating, because I know a lot of artists. People who through sheer force of will are redefining their artistic illustration- painting, singing, art, rap, music, jazz; I know a young lady that plays the cello who’s from the hood, you know who would know about it? I have a friend who has a space called “The Yellow Wall” and many people know about it and they have lots of art shows. They have a lot of people that come and they speak and they perform and they express. But the way they do that is they create opportunity and a place for themselves. There’s an art gallery on 7 mile near Telegraph in an area that you wouldn’t even know that that happened and it’s exciting to see the young people take charge of where the opportunities lie.

Why he wrote the blog

I wrote this blog, because I say ‘I hate Detroit’ all the time. I’ve been saying it for about 10 to 15 years and most people agree.

When you said, ‘I hate Detroit’ 10 years ago, nobody batted an eyelash. Now it’s taboo. Now it has become, ‘How could you say that? We love this place.’

I was on a panel about Detroit grit- the Detroit grittiness that is required to be a Detroit entrepreneur and business owner. I think people use words and they separate it from what the actual effect is, so if you say something like ‘What is Detroit grit?’ and I say, ‘I hate Detroit’. I say it because grit is not easy; it’s not a straight line. There are places where it is much easier to do business. There are places where it is much easier to succeed.

Right now, we are in a place where our household median income is not just less than the national average, but is half of the national average. That is not a slight down tick. Unemployment rate is not less than the national average, it’s twice the national average and that is crazy. That says, ‘How do you sell to people who don’t have the means even when you are an entrepreneur, even if you have great drive and passion?’

I’ve been an entrepreneur for about eight years, maybe even longer, actually about 10 years. I was a freelancer, I had an organization that I work with my business partner, and now I have my marketing agency SAGA. In SAGA we help people tell their stories; we help with marketing and branding. We meet with people almost every day and before they come to talk to us about making stuff pretty, we sit down and discuss ‘What is the actual business case for your service and where are the people?’ You see that almost every day. Where is the actual opportunity? And I am not saying that there is not opportunity, what I am saying is that you have to readjust how you approach it.

To open a hamburger shop with  $10 to $15 hamburgers does not serve the city. However to open up a hamburger shop with $5 hamburgers, maybe that does. To be honest about what our citizens are capable of supporting and then what they are able to go and patronize and then re-patronize, that would be better for the city and give more opportunities to employ people in the city.

Why he stays in Detroit

I am here because if everybody leaves, who’s left?

If all the kids who grew up in my neighborhood, who look like me-some of them I watched grow up and some of them I watched die- if all of those kids have no one to see what you could be from here, that you can grow here, and that you can change the world here, then where else they going to go?

A lot of this problem is opportunity and access. I said the walls in the hood are higher, to see out to the opportunity is harder, so I have to just stand taller than those walls. The people who we employ who are from the city are people that have to stand taller than those walls and we have an obligation to those people.

Working with the clients that I work with whether that’s Detroit Central City that helps homeless people, veterans, and people who have substance abuse issues get the help they need. They go from literally being homeless to having their own funds or the project that I am working with now which is the Detroit 67 project by the Detroit Historical Society. What they are doing is creating an opportunity to have genuine dialog around how did Detroit get to where it is, who are the players, and why is that important. Now my company has had a narrative on that so I feel a great sense of duty to genuinely help tell authentic Detroit stories. I think it’s cool that they hired an agency that’s young like mine to help tell that story from an authentic standpoint.

On loving, giving back to Detroit

I think we get lost in the narrative of the individualism, I think it is our duty and obligation to actually reach back and help actively. It is not my job to stand and say, ‘Hey look, I did it, you can do it too.’ It is my job to do it and then hire people and give them opportunities and then connect them to other people that I know who also have had those opportunities.

It is one thing to love Detroit, if you genuinely do. If you look at something like the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance, they really do love Detroit, they are really in the city working. But if you just attend Lions games, wear ‘Detroit vs. Everybody’ shirts, and you don’t raise your kids here, you don’t send them to school- and I understand why you don’t, it’s hard- but you don’t necessarily love the city. You love things that are in the city and that’s different, but that is ok.

It is ok for you to say, ‘Hey I love the Tigers, but I don’t love Detroit’, I’ll believe you. What I don’t believe is when you come here once every four months and you say, ‘I love the city’. You don’t love the city any more than you love New York.”

I would love people to say that ‘I love this thing in Detroit’ or I would love for people to say, ‘I love Detroit so much, I want to see how we can build in the community.'

Surprising feedback

I don’t think I expected the positive reaction and the amount of reaction. I posted it about Monday morning at about 12:30a.m., I work a 16 hour shift at my office, but when I posted it about 12:30, I thought I had torched my career.

When I woke up I had about a hundred reads, and about four or five positive comments, and I said, ‘This is really interesting.'

When I posted it on Facebook it went gangbusters and 55,000 views later, 95 percent of people are saying ‘This is what I have always been thinking.'

I had people who left the city that said they love and hate their city. I’ve had people posting on my Facebook saying, ‘We’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Detroit and we have just had no way to express it’.

I’ve had people inbox me saying ‘Thank you for articulating ways that I have felt for so long and didn’t know how to express’.

If downtown Detroit, Corktown, Midtown, or 5 percent of the city, that means that 95 percent of the city are experiencing this love-hate relationship and that is an overwhelming population to ignore for you to feel comfortable. I don’t think the comfort is worth the dishonesty.

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