I Was Here Interview, part 2 with Lauren Hood

May 7, 2015 Artists, Interview

Lauren Hood, 43, native detroiter, decided to launch “I Was Here” with Ryan Barrett in order to create a safe space for long-time Detroiters to share their experiences with each other and their new neighbors. Lauren is also owner of Deep Dive Detroit.

I understand that “I Was Here” is about bringing the voices of native Detroiters and the voices of people coming in together to create a dialogue to establish what is really happening here. So, I’m wondering what your perspective is on how that can influence borders in the city, both in community and physically?

I think that as humans we are predisposed for togetherness, we’re taught to put up these walls or these borders as it were, based on economics, race, geographic location and I think we just have to unlearn that in order to get back to our natural selves. It just feels really unnatural to me to constantly be thinking of people in terms of what category they fit in, for me its always been natural to just have black friends, white friends, Jewish friends, rich friends, poor friends, city friends, suburban friends. It’s never been a big deal, but other people I know intentionally think about how they curate their social circles. That’s always been strange to me— I think it’s our nature to just accept everybody, but we’re taught to put up these borders which is so strange. I think dialogue is one of the keys to breaking those down when you just listen to people tell their stories, you’re like, oh, they’re just human beings like me—like, what, you didn’t know that?

Ryan Barrett - I was Here

It’s so weird when people have these aha moments, like what were you thinking before you heard that? But really, people just need to, if you see people telling the story like an honest story you can tell they’re sharing just a little bit more than is comfortable for them, when they’re being vulnerable I think that’s when other people listening are like, that thing happens, that switch goes off—they’re human, their humanity shows when they let the walls come down.

How did you get involved with the Porous Borders festival and what is it you’ll be doing there??

Actually, Gina reached out and put a post on my Facebook page — we’d been going back and forth about doing an “I Was Here” in the playhouse over in that neighborhood and we never really settled on a date, but then she said oh, we have this festival and we have this opportunity to engage the residents.

I’m a little nervous about going into someone else’s community and doing a dialogue event. Sometimes it feels kind of exploitive, like ‘tell me your stories!’ — like I’m going to come into your community, I don’t know you, I don’t know the other people, I don’t know if you know the people that are putting on the event, like I don’t know what the relationships in the neighborhood already are, so it’s kind of strange that we’re going to go in and do a dialogue event.

It’s challenging and I welcome the challenge, but I am a little cautious about how we proceed, because I know how I feel when people just walk into my community and just want to do a thing and leave— like, you haven’t even taken the time to get to know anybody, you’re just going to come in and do this event and we’re never going to see you again? I’m just always aware of those things.

Where did you grow up? Well, I know where you grew up, but I’m sure everyone else is curious and if you have some sort of border story that relates to growing up there…

Interesting. Well, I grew up on the northwest side. It’s really weird talking to my new Detroit friends, they know the neighborhood and they can get on a map and see your neighborhood name — and it’s Bagley, but growing up no one ever called it Bagley, we always referred to it as the northwest side, so any Detroiter will refer to where they’re from as east side or west side or southwest, but no more specific than that. So it’s really very general, like the east side is HUGE and the west side is HUGE, but we never really put ourselves in the neighborhood categories, unless you were a neighborhood like Grandmont-Rosedale or Palmer Park or Indian Village — something with specific character to each of those places that defines them, but the rest of the city was just east side/west side.

I’ve just always felt like a west-sider and west-siders I think growing up always thought that the east side was kind of bad, but then I talked to east-siders who thought that the west-side was always bad, so it’s really interesting that we’re always thinking that that’s where the bad stuff happens — the other side of town. There was good and bad happening everywhere.

Moving into the future, what do you think we can do as Detroit city residents to negotiate the borders of the city and within community?

Ooh, Lord. For starters, I always think that dialogue is important, which is why we’ve done these events. People need to talk to other people and listen to other people, especially if you just got here, just sit around and just listen to some people. What’s tricky is that the people that just got here are the ones that have the resources and the people that have been here have all the insider knowledge and I think you need both of those to move towards an equitable, sustainable future here.

It all starts with people just talking to each other and it’s so weird how people at our events say wow, I never would have heard this story otherwise. Why can’t you just walk up to somebody and say hey, tell me about your experience here? It’s so challenging for people and it seems so strange — its’ such a simple thing, just say hi, I’m here now, tell me about your experience here, what has it been like, what do you want moving forward, what have been your challenges, what can I do? But people just don’t do that, I don’t know if that’s also something we’re taught that we aren’t supposed to just go up to people.

“What’s tricky is that the people that just got here are the ones that have the resources and the people that have been here have all the insider knowledge and I think you need both of those to move towards an equitable, sustainable future here.”

I think about it personally as my mom telling me how when I was younger I would just randomly walk up to strangers and like ‘hi, do you want to be my friend?’. As an adult trying to act like that, people would think what is wrong with her, but really shouldn’t we just be doing that? Whenever I’m meeting people I’m always looking for some lowest common denominator, there’s always something you have in common—even if you think that person is so unlike you, there’s always something, you just need to be willing to do the work to get at it.

— Interview by Levon Kafafian

Read part 1, Ryan Barret’s interview.