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Weekend in Detroit

"Freedom" - Slaves look over at Canada from the banks of the Detroit River

On Saturday morning, 14th May, we checked out of Robert's Riverwalk Hotel and checked into Airbnb for a more homely feel. Jane's old house; situated about ten minutes by car from Downtown Detroit, was very peaceful and full of character. The weather was very hot while we were there, as you can see from the hazy photo.

Launch of the QLine (tram)

We took the bus downtown and explored the city centre for the rest of the day. We had come at the right time because this weekend a new street car (tram) was launched. The QLine would run through the centre of Detroit and everyone could travel free until 1st July. This was a great surprise for us because it runs past Wayne State University where we would be based. We took a free ride.

We found the buzz of on the tram quite amusing, especially when it jolted to a stop or start. Travelling by tram and train in London seems to have improved our sense of balance so we did not shriek with excitement like our fellow passengers. In true American style, people chatted freely with one another as they enjoyed their special day out to experience the QLine for the first time.

Later on in the evening we met up with one of our hosts, Carla, who brought her adorable teenage children, Olivia and Anthony, to meet us and to have dinner in town. We really appreciated Carla's warmth and hospitality: It means so much when you are far from home. You'll hear more about Carla later in the journey.

Underground Railroad

Sunday 15th May was Mother's Day in America. We decided to visit the 2nd Baptist Church in Downtown Detroit. Carla and Rebecca had pointed the church out to us during our tour a few days ago.

We were greeted at the door with red and white carnations, as a gift from the church. A red carnation was pinned to my lapel to show that my mother is still alive and Kofi wore a white carnation in memory of his mother who has passed away.

The church is very active in the community, offering scholarships to get young people through college, running a shop, offering tours of the Underground Railroad and numerous other community projects. After the service we experienced the famous tour.

An elderly member of the congregation took us on the tour, which included church history, the viewing of murals and exhibits, and a stop in a basement room known as the “Croghan Street Station” on the Underground Railroad.​​ In this tour we are invited to take a ride on the train that travelled without tracks; hear the stories of runaways slaves who, escaping slavery, rested in secret at Second Baptist Church before crossing the Detroit River into Canada and “Freedom.” This would be their last stop before crossing the Detroit river.

We heard the stories of the songs that were sung by the slaves, which included coded language to communicate as they moved from station to station, hiding from their owners. Songs such as Deep River, take on a new meaning after hearing the history;

Deep river, my home is over Jordan

Deep river, Lord,

I want to cross over into camp ground

Even with their new found freedom the slaves were not truly free. Some of them joined the first Baptist Church but were not accepted by the white congregation. It was for this reason that the Second Baptist Church was born. Ironically, the current pastor of the First Baptist Church (still predominantly a white congregation) is the son of the pastor of the Second Baptist, which is still a black congregation... so things have moved on...

Blacks and Whites Unite in Detroit - Rebecca's Family

After a brief visit to the Underground Railroad Reading Station (bookshop) we stop in town for lunch. During lunch we received a text from Rebecca Wheeler, who had guided us on our tour around Detroit last Friday; inviting us to join her family for a Mother's Day gathering. We took advantage of the free rides offered by QLine and soon found the family home, where Rebecca's parents have lived for several decades. Unlike the 1st Baptist Church, this family is a living testimony that blacks and whites can live in unity in Detroit.

Family Home of Rebecca's Parents

The house teemed with life as we were introduced to Rebecca's children, parents, husband, siblings and their partners and children, neighbours and people in the community in need or love and care. This family demonstrated to us that there is hope for Detroit. Rebecca, a white American, is married to a black American. Some of her siblings also have black partners. In this family, different races live together as one and we did not detect any sense of difference or awkwardness among them.

After meeting Rebecca's mother we understood where Rebecca's generosity and hospitality came from. Over the years she and her husband have opened their doors to any child that needed a home and love, adopting them if needs be. She recently started a group for mothers and babies, drafting in her neighbours, children and 'in laws' to help with clothing, food, toys, etc. Where there has been no provision by the state, it is people like Rebecca and her family that offer food, clothing and comfort to the needy people in their neighbourhood. According to Rebecca's mother, 'If you have no children, all you have to do is open your doors and they will come to you'. Even as we spoke in the garden, a mother arrived at the house with her three children. They had recently joined the parent-child group and were quite destitute. Rebecca's mother excused herself from the conversation to attend to the family and to ensure that the children had something nutritious to eat.

Flowers from Rebecca's family garden

I had already enjoyed the privilege of hearing Rebecca speak at the Mi-AIMH conference and was moved by her passion for infants and families. She had also committed half a day to show us the remote corners of Detroit, filling us in on all the history of her beloved Detroit. We were really moved to discover that, though quite affluent, the family had elected to remain in Detroit and play a major role in building affordable housing for disadvantaged families instead of being a part of the 'white flight' from the city. Kofi snapped the above picture of some beautiful flowers in Rebecca's family garden. I have included it here to symbolise the beauty of this family. Thank you for your hospitality.

Left: Rebecca's mum, Fran and her grandchildren.

Right: Rebecca, her mother and daughter.

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