Blog: Megan Miller

"All the world's a stage", as Shakespeare said... "world" being the operative term for next-gen Detroiters. Enter Megan Miller, director of programs at the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, who holds forth on why the city's young residents should step outside its urban limits.

Post 1: Why Young Detroiters Should Get Out of the City

Anyone between the ages of 18 and 35 living in the Metro Detroit area is familiar by now with the rhetoric: Young professionals are leaving the state in record numbers!  We need to do more to keep recent college graduates in Michigan!  I agree we need to continue to re-invent our city to attract and retain young professionals, but I'd like to take a few minutes to talk about why it is also vital that we make sure that young Detroiters have the opportunity to experience life outside of the metro area.

At Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, we serve youth from all over the city; we have program sites in the North end, on the east-side and in southwest Detroit, and also draw youth from the suburbs.  Through their passion for the performing arts, diverse groups of young people come together to create strong ensembles.  Talking to the young artists for the past six years I consistently hear comments like, "I had never met anyone from the east-side," or "I didn’t know there were Latino kids in Detroit."  Many of our young artists have never been exposed to people or life in different areas of the city, let alone in Chicago, Toronto or New York.  

Why is this significant?  Part of Metro Detroit's legacy is that we are one of the most segregated metropolitan areas in the country.  If our next generation of citizens and leaders do not have a concept of the diversity of the metro area, nor what it feels like to live in a thriving city, this may limit their ability to imagine and contribute to the transformation of Detroit.

I was born and raised in an upper middle-class family on the northwest side.  I went to Detroit Public Schools, experienced the wonders this city has to offer, and was taught from an early age to be proud of my roots in this community.  Trips with my family to Chicago, DC and New Orleans, however, were instructive. Riding on the subway, observing large numbers of pedestrians on the sidewalks and experiencing café culture, gave me a sense of the bustle and energy of a flourishing city.  I remember having conversations with my father during these trips about how things were different in Detroit, and starting to ask the question,"Why?"  And later, "What can I do about it?"

Equally edifying were my experiences competing in national science fairs while studying at Cass Tech.  The Detroit delegation to the annual event would usually meet at Country Day to review logistics for the trip.  I remember seeing the neatly trimmed sports fields, the labs of wood and polished metal, and talking to my friends about their matriculation.  It made me aware of the differences in resources and expectations students experienced depending on where they went to school, and it made me want to give back to the next generation of Detroit students.  

Living abroad in Paris was elucidating in a different way.  Young people were often excited when I told them that I was from Detroit because they were eager to talk about our electronic music scene.  Before Paris, I honestly had no idea that we had a world-class electronic music scene.  Learning through friends about the wonderful things coming out of my home town increased my pride and desire to explore Detroit.

Many young Detroiters do not have these kinds of opportunities.  Some of the young people I have met through Mosaic have limited experience outside of their neighborhood – whether their neighborhood is on the east-side, southwest side or in the suburbs.  I believe this has an impact on our ability to move forward as a community.  Whatever you see, hear, taste or otherwise experience on a daily basis becomes your "normal"; shaping your expectations of life and yourself.  

We have a lot happening in Metro Detroit right now from greening projects to public transportation along the Woodward corridor to sweeping school reform to the reinvention of our economic engine.  One of our biggest battles, however, is with our own cynicism and resignation.  To win this battle, we must cultivate our capacity to envision and believe in a brighter future, and our willingness to contribute toward the realization of this vision.  Young people have an important role to play in this endeavor.  If you are reading this blog, more than likely you are already actively engaged in re-inventing Metro Detroit.  What are you doing to bring a young person or group of young people in to this effort?  

At Mosaic, we help young people make meaningful connections with peers around the city and in the suburbs through rigorous training in their passion – the performing arts.  We expose them to new experiences that expand their vision of what is possible by making them aware of opportunities to develop themselves outside of Mosaic, and by organizing trips to perform, work with guest artists, and tour colleges and universities.  Last week alone, a group of 40 young artists travelled to Pennsylvania, New York, D.C. and Ohio on our annual College Tour; two more young artists travelled to D.C. to meet Barry Gordy, tour the White House and participate in a panel discussion about the enduring impact of Motown; and the Singers who remained in Detroit performed four times at Henry Ford Museum.  We also teach our young artists to give back through events like Perform-A-Thon, in which youth spend the day performing at homeless shelters, youth detention centers and nursing homes.

This week I'll be blogging about the impact of these experiences and sharing a few quotes from the young artists themselves.  In the meantime, I encourage you to identify what you can do to expand the world view or cultivate the spirit of service of a young Metro Detroiter.