Senior Ambassadors Project
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.
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
These two neighborhoods played a vital role in the history of Detroit as it was the area that was the housing and entertainment area for the city’s African-American population from the 1920s-1950s.
Black Detroiters were usually refused to live in most white neighborhoods in the city so the majority of the black population lived in the crowded area of Black Bottom where the rent was high and the housing was poor.
Paradise Valley, which was adjacent to Black Bottom was the area of the city that consisted of primarily black owned businesses ranging from restaurants, shops and night clubs. The area consisted between the Detroit river on the south and Grand Boulevard on the north, essentially were I-75 is currently.
Students will explore the photograph collection that is housed at the Reuther library that has images of the two neighborhoods. They will also read oral histories and review the historical vertical files about the subject to get a full flavor of these historical areas on Detroit.
G. Mezerik Papers
The Mezerik papers contain the life work of Mr. and Mrs. Mezerik’s fight to protect civil rights. They were involved with the early days of the UAW, and headed the Aid the Spanish Republic committee.
The students will be using the manuscript that Mezerik wrote about his life growing up in Detroit during the years 1912-1920.
Through his recollections of life in Detroit, students will be able to capture the essence of what Detroit was like during this time through the eyes of a teenager.
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.