Detroit Youth Talk About What It’s Like to Grow Up in the City

By Siobhan O’Laoire, evaluation fellow at The Skillman Foundation

This summer, we talked with Detroit youth to hear about their experiences of growing up in the city, and their perspectives on the current needs and challenges facing youth today. We visited parks and community centers in five different Detroit neighborhoods, speaking with a diverse mix of youth.

So what did we hear?

*It’s important to note that the following summarizes what we heard from a variety of youth, whose communities and experiences vary.

  • Youth, and the neighborhoods in which they live, need to benefit from Detroit’s recovery too.

“Kids don’t have no books, but they building a train downtown.”

They know of the development happening downtown, but don’t feel the positive impacts of it in their lives. They want to see improvements reach their neighborhoods, whether its investment in schools, streets, or recreational spaces like parks and community centers.

  • Improve school quality, including school culture.

“Nowadays the schools are falling apart.”

Youth discussed the need to address the culture inside schools, including conflict resolution, school leadership, communication between adults and students, safety inside school, and consistency in school quality across the city.

  • More opportunities to grow and develop.

“Someone could come out here passing out applications instead of the police coming up here, checking on us.”

Youth talked about needing equal access to more growth opportunities such as mentors and caring adults, quality jobs, guidance to navigate college and careers options, and enriching out-of-school opportunities including youth leadership development.

  • Safety and violence is top of mind.

“You shouldn’t have to be afraid of your own city, or your own neighborhood, or your own streets where you grow up.”

Safety and violence are major concerns for many Detroit youth. In conversations about safety, youth discussed the sense of hopelessness around gun violence, the need for more community policing, and the need for conflict resolution in schools and the community.

  • Youth want to be heard, respected and believed in. 

“You the only people who came up here and are willing to talk to us.” 

Many Detroit youth feel disengaged and disempowered. Some say they have few caring adults to support them and believe in them. For these children, their sense of worth is further challenged by unsafe and blighted neighborhoods, poor education opportunities, and a perception that society as a whole sees them as “less than.” 

Wisdom doesn’t just come from age. It is important for all of us to listen to youth, especially on issues that directly impact them. We must honor and elevate the voices of youth. Listening to and partnering with youth is a multi-generational approach to address the pressing issues in our community today. 

In order to truly support kids, we must work alongside them. Listening to youth allows us all to deepen our understanding of their experiences and needs, as well as their proposed solutions. As we continue to engage with youth and listen to them, we ask that you do the same. As much as they need our support, we need theirs. #Voices4Ed #Allkidsmatter

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