Week 1 Blog Post by Team Ritesh ofTeam RAIK
The start of Open Road @ Ross was filled with excitement and much anticipation. Having prepped for months for this moment, we were excited to pull up to our Airbnb in Hamtramck, settle down, and get started. The community around us was thriving. We were in Banglatown, a community made up largely of Bangladeshi immigrants and their families. The streets in this town were very clean and the stores catered to the tastes of the local group. Having heard of Detroit’s struggles, Banglatown was a strong example of how the whole city was bouncing back and how the minority community was succeeding. As we met with our sponsor, we learned quickly that the success of Banglatown was not always mirrored in all parts of Detroit.
In our initial conversation with our sponsor Emily Staugaitis, we were quickly moved by her passion and enthusiasm to help the community. Emily ability to empathize with others was a driving force in all her activities. She shared with us her story of how she met Minara Begum, a Bangladeshi immigrant who did not speak English during their first interaction. Despite the language barrier, the two were able to foster a strong friendship. In addition to Emily’s remarkable ability to empathize with all members of the community, she also had an immense knowledge of the individual needs of the different communities that made up her neighborhood.
Despite being a full-time teacher, Emily sought to find ways to help her neighborhood grow, and she determined that the East Davison community could benefit most from her effort. Driving around East Davison, you could see the stark differences between Banglatown and East Davison. Many of the houses in East Davison were boarded up and in need of repair, and even the streets were not maintained. Yet all that divided there two towns was one road, Joseph Campau Street. To a casual observer, Detroit’s Campau/Banglatown Neighborhood had only one story, but only after diving deep could one realize that this was really a tale of two communities. Emily’s mission was to create the East Davison Village Neighborhood Organization that found find ways to help rehabilitate the houses in the community. Our mission was to find ways to help her do so.
After accessing ways, we could help Emily, we determined the best way would be to understand the most effective ways to fund her mission. We first accessed traditional sources of funding, such as banks and government grants, for projects related to home rehabilitation. We then however realized that the best sources were patient capital investors in the Detroit area who were passionate about seeing the city grow. Finally, to help Emily acquire these funding sources, we created content on how to make a pitch, what type of legal entity to create, as well as provided her contact with experts in the Detroit revitalization field to help answer any unanswered questions.
As I reflect on the week, I am strongly reminded on the importance on not generalizing a population without understanding the history and culture of that population. Despite being characterized in the same neighborhood because of geography, Banglatown and East Davison have two distinct communities and cultures, and therefore different needs. Detroit is showing strong signs of revitalization, and I am excited to have met one of the individuals who are leading this change. Emily is an inspiration to everyone who wants to understand the power of one individual. She does not back down from a challenge and commits her free time to helping those in needs. I am excited to she what becomes of the East Davison Village Neighborhood in the years to come and am glad to have had the opportunity to be back of shaping that future.