I did not set out to become a project manager. I earned a degree in English literature from the University of Rochester before embarking on a 15-year journalism career. For the past nine years, I worked as a freelance writer for The Huffington Post and published opinion pieces as a contributing editor.
My career in journalism focused on debunking liberal bullshit in a way that no one else could, calling out people like Donald Trump, Al Sharpton and countless other idiots who concocted theories about rape and Hurricane Katrina. No one else would admit to their mistakes.
In August 2013, I resigned from HuffPost and moved to Detroit. I arrived in the middle of the city’s water crisis, one of the worst in American history. Residents from all over the city were struggling to stay alive without clean running water and, for months, little to no electricity. It was the middle of a recession that had devastated much of the city.
Life in Detroit was harder than I had ever imagined. I had spent my adult life writing about people who had it all: successful, educated jobs. The least privileged people in Detroit were most like I had ever seen. There were unemployed men and young men. Most were young and black. They slept outside on metal folding tables. Two or three times a day, they fought as they scavenged for food scraps from trash cans.
I didn’t know what to do.
One day in the kitchen of a Walmart in southeast Detroit, my friend James and I had a one-sided conversation about what our choices were in life. I left before it was over. I thought a big store like Walmart that sells everything cheap would be a good place to teach young men to create jobs and lift them out of poverty.
Years later, I am still working to do this.
In 2015, I learned I was pregnant. My second daughter, Ava, was born in September of that year. I couldn’t be an absentee father to the little girl that inspired me to become an activist.
I didn’t know what to do.
The winter of 2016 was the coldest in Detroit in decades. A cataclysmic wind swept across the city — hurricane-force gusts. It created a kind of driftwood, framing the city’s most vulnerable residents. Those most in need were driven to the streets by icy streets.
At one point, I’d take a trailer to the local public library to bring people free coats. Every day was terrifying.
By late March 2017, I was named as the deputy director of “Emergency Operations,” one of the most important jobs in Detroit’s Office of Community Engagement. I had to lead the response to the water crisis in the South End and the occupied Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, as well as the Arbor Farms truck depot fire. I then had to strategize a solution to the truck fire.
I would have to do that again and again, day after day.
At times, I felt isolated.
After working with struggling families for decades, I also helped for the first time to help old friends and loved ones move on.
Last August, I was not alone when I heard the news that Walmart CEO Doug McMillon was going to make a rare visit to Detroit. He was supposed to talk about the company’s commitment to being a community partner in Detroit. He was brought in for a one-day sit-down with city officials and the press to discuss Detroit’s response to the water crisis.
I started noticing people outside Walmart’s downtown Detroit store staring me down. Others didn’t notice. I turned to run across the street to a media meeting, but not everyone was paying attention.
Later that evening, at an event at the McNamara Concert Hall in downtown Detroit, I was so thrilled to be welcomed to the city that I made my way to the front of the room. I exchanged goodbyes and good luck wishes with members of the Detroit City Council. Just then, my new boss walked in and took my job. He was a regular customer.
It’s official: This is the city I’ve always wanted to be.
I work in a city where the water is still dirty. I get to volunteer with people struggling to get by without a job. I have a huge responsibility every day: make sure people get food, shelter and basic amenities.
One by one, people tell me how I have helped them. One after another, those people tell me I am my own hero.