By Tunde Wey
October 25, 2013
We will begin with a working assumption that suggests everything we are doing—every new idea, every innovation, each advantageous process that contributes towards a better Detroit—everything is producing repairable damage. That is an audacious statement, even with the noted "repairable" caveat included, but maybe Lauren Hood can explain.
Hood is a youthful-looking 40. This is not a polite observation, but rather an envy-inducing recognition. Her background is solidly middle class and she enjoyed all the stability a two-parent home provides growing up. A beneficiary of private grade school education, college and post-graduate degrees, Hood is well-capitalized socially and culturally. She is well-spoken but even more importantly speaks the cultural language of success, that tongue only native to progenies of good schools and middle class socialization. She is invested adequately in popular and intellectual concerns; these aforementioned qualities are very important because Hood is acutely aware of them. These are some of her many privileges and thrown against that perennial American disadvantage of being a minority (a double minority in Hood’s case; she is an African American woman), Hood straddles two worlds, privilege and lack.
The assumption of repairable damage is slowly coming into focus; you see for Hood without acknowledging privileges—"…something, that gives you an advantage over people that you didn’t earn; something you were born into"—we cannot create lasting solutions.
She says, "In order to work towards a more just society you have to first recognize the unearned privileges that some groups have and others don’t, by no fault of their own."
Hood, along with partner Vicky Mazzola, founded Deep Dive Detroit
in 2012 to "create a safe space for uncomfortable conversations between disparate groups." These conversations, about the privileges bestowed by race, class, religion, gender and more, are uncomfortable because they illuminate long-standing social discrepancies and force us to acknowledge tough truths.
Deep Dive Detroit takes a unique approach to convening these conversations.
"Our workshops allow for members of privileged groups to sit face to face with members of underserved groups and engage in an authentic dialogue. Our small groups allow for more genuine expressions of honest interchanges. Our workshops give special preference to voice of the underserved communities whereas other programs recirculate the same 'experts' in their programming.
'The priority for Deep Dive Detroit is to have the person with the lived-experience—someone with firsthand knowledge of an issue—share rather than experts.”
For Hood and Mazzola, Deep Dive Detroit is about elevating every participant of the conversation to the same status by paring away those social constructs that cause divisions: the constructs of race, class, gender, and more. The erasure of these manufactured divisions start with a diversity of opinions and the awareness and recognition of personal biases.
"We’ve gathered together small, intentionally diverse groups. Racially, by age and knowledge of an issue, their level of awareness is different. We gather these people for an all day workshop, where they are sitting in close proximity to our guest facilitators. Most workshops have someone talk at you from across the room, but with our program the barriers to honest communication and open dialogue are reduced. In our circles, we try to create a safe place where there is no judgment and we open it by acknowledging our own prejudices. We try to get people to not be afraid to say how they are feeling."
There is an extremely delicate calibration necessary to gauge the effectiveness of such an endeavor. How does one measure justice or equity? Certainly not by the acrimonious results of an imperfect legal system, or the outcomes of a market-driven economic reality.
For Hood, working in this amorphous world of human relations, there is a specific target.
"The main goal is to alleviate tension between groups and to eradicate misconceptions about people perceived as 'other.' Our thinking is the more time you spend with someone you perceive as different the more of their differences melt away."
Deep Dive Detroit's sessions are an exercise is stopping the world to melt away, shutting off the engine that hurtles individuals and groups into antagonistic and adversarial relationships. When participants leave, they return to their personal universes with a slightly better understanding of our shared reality and their role in it.
This is hope; the hope, as Hood puts it, "that you can take what you learned from our workshops and apply it in Detroit; a segregated and divided city."
All photos by Doug Coombe.