by Amber Leja
What do you think of when you hear “Detroit”? A city that has fallen — hidden between abandoned houses and empty factories — swallowed into the crime and destruction that we hear about on the nightly news? To most, unfortunately, it’s just the city buried beneath bankruptcy — the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S history. So, what is Detroit? Who is Detroit?
The chaos of the city’s pitfalls has overshadowed the part of Detroit that still sings full of character — the part of Detroit that the media often forgets to cover. And doesn’t Detroit stand for more than just a city that most have already given up on?
Amidst the rumble, you will find there is still hope shining from Detroit’s citizens; the individuals who work every day to make a life for themselves, their families and keep their days moving forward. Sometimes forgotten, there’s still life beating within the streets of this city — life that’s waiting to be heard, wanting to be remembered. The people of Detroit are what give this city its soul. This is what Amber in the City is about.
Meet Dr. Deborah Jenkins; a born and raised Detroiter, mother of five and principal at Martin Luther King, Jr. Senior high school. She agreed to give up a few hours of her time on a busy Saturday morning to speak with me. It was the school’s clean-up day and she was expecting quite a few visitors to help clean and organize the school, get it ready for the anticipated 1,700 students to arrive at the end of this month, she explained as she showed me around.
This will be her fifth year at Martin Luther King, Jr. high school, she told me, pointing to a picture hanging on the wall of her office. The picture was of a quote from Dr. King. Stacked next to her desk was a pile of other inspirational messages as well as pictures of influential people — all in broken frames. She told me those frames were being fixed-up to go back on the walls around the school.
“I like to keep positive messages throughout the hallways to push students, make them see they can do it themselves,” Jenkins says. “Everyone has their way, some lose it, some don’t know it, I like to help them find it.”
The principal smiles bashfully when speaking of her students. Calling herself a “turn-around principal,” Jenkins has worked in various Detroit high schools over the years, all with the mission of “leaving the school better than when I started.” Hope brimming from her eyes, she asks rhetorically, “What else would you live for, if not for someone else?”
As we walked out through the empty hallways filled with stacked chairs and folded tables, soon to be replaced by students rushing past, she expressed her fear that she won’t have time to do it all, to help the students and make a difference in their lives.
As she walked me to the door upon the conclusion of our interview, Jenkins left me with these parting words: “People don’t realize we are all the same — just different paint. And sometimes we don’t get to know each other because of that paint — I want to help people see beyond the worlds we’ve been locked into – and help others see beyond the worlds they’ve been locked into.”