Detroit was a city I dreamt of visiting but didn’t dare to. The rusty image of Detroit got imprinted in my mind when I fell in love with the movie <8 Mile> starring Eminem. And the news from Detroit would always be negative; the city declared bankruptcy, the heart of the decaying Rustbelt, a security vacuum overflowing with empty houses, and severe black-and-white racial tension. When the IIE announced in January that a leadership workshop would be held at Wayne State University in Detroit, I was the first to apply. “If you don’t go to Detroit this time, you probably never will,”- my heart said.
The Detroit I actually faced was very different. It felt like meeting a nice guy on a blind date without any expectations. I booked accommodation within a 20-minute walk from Wayne State University, but while making a reservation, I had doubts like “Can I really walk around?”. But somehow, the city was much safer and cleaner than I expected, and I walked to school feeling good every morning, breathing in the fresh, hydrated air (which is rare in Phoenix). All over the city, beautiful mansions and buildings reminiscent of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby are lined with signs explaining the old history of these buildings. Detroit’s past glory is unimaginable.
Detroit was also a sports haven for me, a sports journalist. The city hosts teams in all four major professional sports (NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB). After the workshop, I visited the stadiums of three of these sports, except for the NFL (Detroit Lions), whose season had already ended. I pretended to be a ‘temporary citizen of Detroit’ and cheered fervently, but unfortunately, the NBA (Detroit Pistons), NHL (Detroit Red Wings), and MLB (Detroit Tigers) all lost. It has been too long since this city experienced the joy of winning. The Lions have never won a Super Bowl; the Tigers last won the World Series in 1984, the Pistons last won the Finals in 2004, and the Red Wings last won the Stanley Cup in 2008. May the glory of winning return to this beautiful city!
The four-day workshop (4/4-7) was more fantastic than the city’s beauty. For those of us unfamiliar with the school, Wayne State University students stood outside the building holding “Humphrey Workshop” signs, and staff handed out carefully edited binders with workshop materials. On the first day, we studied the leadership model based on the DISC personality type test results. I was characterized as a pure C type, which stands for conscientiousness, analytical thinking, considering the pros and cons of matters deeply, and valuing precision and details when it comes to work. While studying the different types of D (Dominance), I (Influence), and S (Steadiness) together, we had endless group discussions on how to bring out each other’s strengths and create great synergy. Thanks to Kimberly White-Jenkins for this informative lecture!
On the second day, Dr. Donyale Padgett expanded my worldview with her session on how diverse diversity can truly be. My country, South Korea, is a culture classified as a “single nation-state” with racial, linguistic, and cultural homogeneity. People are similar to each other back home. It was a challenge for me to recognize each other’s differences and create greater unity. I also only used to pay attention to and reacted sensitively to “gender discrimination.” I was not very interested in other areas. However, Dr. Padgett made it easy to recognize that there are enormously diverse considerations such as age, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion/spirituality, mental health status, language, and race/ethnicity.
In particular, I learned one wonderful word from her: “Differently abled.” People with physical or mental impairments are often referred to as “the disabled.” However, this word itself underlies the prejudice that they are incompetent and cannot play a significant role in society. But when we start to think of them as people with differentially capable abilities, the social sphere in which we can work together becomes much more significant. As the Paralympic Games have already shown, no one has an easy answer to the question, “What is normal.”
Wayne State faculty and staff demonstrated the value of diversity in action. Halal food was served throughout the workshop, and in consideration of Ramadan, lunch boxes were also provided for Muslim Fellows to eat later. When the certificate presentation ceremony was held after the workshop, the staff wanted to pronounce our names correctly and asked us for pronunciation directions. My name is written as “Jihea” (meaning wisdom) but pronounced as “Ji-he.” In the US, most people say my name is hard to pronounce, and no one calls me properly, so I was moved when hearing “Ji-he.” Respect for native names based on the roots of each country’s culture is a beautiful and important thing. Thank you, Wayne State University staff, especially Fareed, Jess, and Katie, for showing this precious value in action.
The more I participated in the workshop, the more curious and courageous I became about Detroit, so I walked around the city at night (I don’t recommend it to others). I walked across the river to the end of downtown, where I could see Windsor, Canada, and walked back home safely. As I savored the beauty of the city day and night, I reflected on the days when I would say, “Detroit is just scary,” without ever having been to the city. As the Wayne State University staff (natives of Detroit) point out, people are saying, “Detroit is back,” but the city has never left. There have certainly been some ups and downs over the past few years, but now Detroit is poised to build a bright future again, retaining its past glory.
As I savored the beauty of Detroit, I realized once again the importance of not being trapped by prejudice and preconceived notions. If you do not have too many expectations in advance and encounter unfamiliar objects with an open mind and open eyes, even trivial things can feel like a surprising twist. That’s the lesson Detroit taught me this time.