My Love for Detroit

I’m Marie Colombo, senior officer for knowledge management and chief of staff-program at the Skillman Foundation. I'm a life-long Detroiter whose ancestors were drawn to the region for work in the auto industry. I have a very special place in my heart for zip code 48205 and the Osborn/Denby neighborhoods.
There’s been a flurry of social media conversations where people are sharing the things they love about Detroit. For me it’s the spirit – of Detroit’s past, its present and its future – epitomized in the poem Detroit Jesus, written Peter Putnam, which was composed for Grace Lee Boggs on her 96th birthday.

Detroit Jesus

Time, Inc., buys a house in Detroit
and tries to track him for a year.
But he’s invisible to those looking for a
            blue-eyed dude in a white robe
or for a city gone completely to hell.
He is the cinnamon of my son’s skin
with a green thumb and a Tigers cap
and my daughter’s dove-grey eyes.
He prays into Blair’s guitar,
hangs out on Field St.,
bakes bread at Avalon
and plants tomatoes on the East side.
He rides his old-school bike down the heart
            of Grand River,
paints a mural in the Corridor,
shoots hoop in the Valley
with priests and pimps and lean young men
trying to jump their way to heaven.
At night,
while the Border Patrol counts cars,
he walks across the water
            to Windsor,
grabs a bite to eat,
walks back.

Like Grace,
born in Providence,
he lives so simply,
he could live anywhere:
Dublin, Palestine, Malibu.
But Detroit is his home.
It was here one Sunday
a boy invited him down
            off the cross
and into his house
for a glass of Faygo red pop.
That was centuries ago, it seems,
and how far he’s come,
reinventing himself more times than Malcolm.
He’s been to prison,
been to college,
has a tattoo of Mary Magdalene on one arm,
Judas on the other,
and knows every Stevie Wonder song by heart.
He’s Jimmy, he’s Invincible, he’s Eminem.
He’s the girls at Catherine Ferguson
            and their babies,
and he’s the deepest part of Kwame
still innocent as a baby.
The incinerator is hell,
but he walks right in,
burns it up with love,
comes out the other side,
walks on.
He can say Amen in twelve religions,
believes school is any place
where head and heart and hands
            meet,
and wears a gold timepiece around his neck
with no numbers, just a question:
What time is it on the clock of the world?
And every second of every day
he answers that question
with a smile wide as the Ambassador
and a heart as big as Belle Isle,
hugging this city in his arms
and whispering to each soul
words no one else dares to say:
You are Jesus,
this is your Beloved Community,
and the time
on the clock of the world
is Now.

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