I’m a Detroit native. To some people, that means nothing; for others, that means I have a lot of grit. Some people come with assumptions about where I’m from and try to place me in the stereotype of “ghetto” or “bad business.” Growing up on the Westside of Detroit, with my fair share of walking and taking the bus to school, I encountered feelings of worthlessness and despair, never seeming to compare to what all the other students had. I grew to love Ted Talks on my walks to school, hoping to learn lessons from them to keep motivated even when my days felt low and emotions tore me apart. I came across this speaker named Theaster Gates. Theaster Gates is a potter, artist, activist, and urban planner, and his Ted Talk changed the trajectory of my life.
Gates begins his Ted Talk by mentioning his pottery practice of 15 years, learning how to take the nothingness of clay and turn it into something to marvel at. He took me on this journey of understanding the “life within things.” He shares his journey of how he changed the underdeveloped state of his neighborhood on the south side of Chicago by transforming old abandoned buildings to create hubs of community that reconnected and inspired those living there. Before discovering Gates, I lived in the “hood” – surrounded by abandoned buildings, dark alleyways, and streets filled with nightwalkers, gunshots, and ambulance sirens—where no one wanted to be, not even me. Moreover, what I learned from a man I had never met, whose Ted Talk I happened to stumble upon, was a simple fact that how my community is, isn’t how it has to be. Every sleepless night filled with fear of what would happen next began to be filled with passion and goals for my community to transform into a better place for me and everyone in it.
I am a senior entering my fifth year of education at Alabama A&M University, studying Urban & Regional Planning with a minor in Political Science. I indulge myself in this field of study because I plan on creating better qualities of life for people, looking at what other see as nothing and turning it into something we all can enjoy. As I reach graduation in May 2024, I hold myself accountable for reconnecting marginalized communities that suffer from historical segregation and traumas. I aspire to develop tools to advance and create better futures in cities such as Detroit, Michigan, Birmingham, Alabama, Cleveland, Ohio, and Baltimore, Maryland. It is empowering to imagine one day being an urban advocacy planner and city councilwoman. Gates’ story curated change in my life just by hearing it, and now I am dedicated to creating a better life, a better chance for success for anyone who felt like I did and lived how I did or worse. I choose to see what others refuse to, the “life within things.”