Optimistic Historians: A new generation connecting with Detroit histories

The use of storytelling as a tool for peace-building derives from the notion that conflict stems from the bad stories that we hear about others, the past, the future and ourselves. An inspiring story can elicit emotions that move people to take action, together. Listening to others’ stories allows us to see how people confront challenge, create connections and reduce feelings of isolation.

In the 2018-2019 academic year, One Earth Writing’s Senior Ambassadors are creating new connections with Detroit’s rich and diverse history from archival materials that inspire their writing. The Senior Ambassadors take their responsibility as members of the Detroit community seriously, and will develop stories, poems, and multimedia portrayals of timeless archival materials about Detroit from 1910-1960. Their work culminates in an exhibit at the Walter P. Reuther Library which will live on in perpetuity at both the Library’s website, and the One Earth Writing website. 

Detroit, Michigan Skyline

About the project

Optimistic Historians: A new generation connecting with Detroit histories encourages teens to work collectively to connect with Detroit’s history from different perspectives. By using writing as a tool for generating mind-opening conversations and exploration among teens, we hope to empower young leaders, promote participation, and provide an opportunity to share unique experiences with people from different backgrounds.

This project is funded in part by Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Primary source materials

Black Bottom & Paradise Valley

G. Mezerik Papers

Optimistic Historians: A new generation connecting with Detroit histories will teach the Senior Ambassadors that they can learn history from people they know and that they can personally collect and preserve information that help us retell our collective story. They will learn about people, events, and everyday life in the past by analyzing historical data, including documents, photographs, and oral histories.

Through this examination, the teens will have the opportunity to think about what has been lost in Detroit and learn how to document historical change through analysis and storytelling.