by Amber Leja
A man stands, his whiskered-chin in hand, considering the next move on a chessboard with pieces two-feet tall. His name is Ronald Carter and he’s a home remodeler. He was in the middle of a chess game on a sidewalk in downtown Detroit. I asked whether I could watch him and his opponent play.
Carter told me he didn’t know his opponent and that he often bikes into the city to play chess. “Downtown Detroit is the safest part of the city, I come down here for the sense of community, you can’t find that anywhere else.” He went on to tell me about how he's lived in all parts of the country but always comes back to Detroit.
“It’s my home, there’s no other place like it, I grew up here,” he says. He then added what can be described as his litmus test: “If you can’t survive here in Detroit, you can’t survive any place else, so I always come back home.”
Then, seemingly out of the blue, Carter’s face lit up as he sprang over the other chess pieces and whacked his opponent's knight off the board, punctuating the quiet chitchat with a “How about that?!” I asked Carter what that move meant. “I’m not the best player, I’m learning, slowly but surely; but he lost a defender of his queen, which is bad for him and good for me.”
I looked over the other man’s face, he was laughing and shaking his head in disbelief of Carter’s well-thought out move. After the game ended, Carter and I talked a bit more about himself. I like to let people just talk, without asking too many questions, because they usually try to fill the silence with whatever is running through their mind at the moment and I want to capture those uninhibited thoughts.
“What I want more than anything is peace, you know?” Carter told me, “I would love to see people living together in peace, living well, no hate, just peace.”
Carter reflected on being a kid again, “That was the happiest time in my life, there was no responsibility, you can just live.” He went on to tell me about how he worries about his future with his retirement, given the bankruptcy issue in Detroit, but says he’s hopeful there will be good in it.
“When Snyder came in and ‘gangstered’ the city, he juggled up all those politicians that needed to get out, I really think it’s a good thing for the city,” he says.
Carter seemed like a man who has been in and out through the rough-end of Detroit’s bankruptcy, yet he keeps a smile on his face and focuses on the little joys in his life, such as an afternoon game of chess with a complete stranger, lending to his idea of Detroit's sense of community.
“Only in Detroit will you find that people keep moving forward,” he offers.