Opinion: Finding Beauty in a Big City

Dandelion seeds scattered along the top of the building while a young girl blows on a dandelion. This mural, titled “Never Stop Dreaming,” is located outside of the Matrix Theatre Company, a place that, according to their website, “builds community, improves lives and fosters social justice” (Photo by Rhiannon Slotnick).

When I tell people I live in Detroit, they immediately think I live in a stereotypical city: loud noise, bright lights and, for a lack of a better word, grime. I’m upset that Detroit is known for violence and not the amazing community. My hometown has given me the opportunity to meet great people who want to see me succeed.

And while I am unable to participate in one of my favorite pastimes – stargazing – in the city, I am still able to appreciate the beauty my community has to offer.

In Southwest Detroit, a variety of colorful murals reflect the beauty I see in my hometown. Many of these pieces were created as a part of the Detroit Mural Project, which was started in 2015 by Viranel Clerard.

These works of art are scattered throughout: on sides of buildings, garage doors, taco trucks, restaurant windows and shop signs. As you turn away from one, there’s another right around the corner.

Every single time I go home, I can’t help but admire the beauty in all the pieces, both new and old.

Lines of farmers and Indigenous people stand on opposing sides of a corn field facing The Virgin Mary. The artist, Vito Valdez, painted this mural “in the spirit of the Indigenous people who cultivated land that was once theirs” Valdez said (Photo by Rhiannon Slotnick).

Vito Valdez, the artist of the corn field mural, has worked and lived in Southwest Detroit for over 30 years. His work on this beautiful mural is what inspired me to write this piece in the first place.

Every day after I came home from elementary school, I would pass this piece and admire the contrast between the two sides, even though it looked almost like a reflection of the other side. To me, this piece brings together groups of different people who hold the same values; creating a community.

I unfortunately didn’t stay involved with my community after elementary school; something I regret to this day. When I was more involved, I was a young performer with the Matrix Theatre Company.

As a former member, I can honestly say that they are dedicated to their mission. During my time as a theatre child, I made connections with people from different programs and participated in community activities, like picnics, run by the theatre.

While being in the program, I became more confident in myself. I opened up to meeting new people from diverse backgrounds, and learned to be more open minded about situations others were going through.

As a child, the mind doesn’t process negative thoughts like an adult does. When I was younger, I saw only the vibrancy in everyday life, even without the artwork that has now become a staple in Detroit.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve let my negative emotions run my life. I’ve focused solely on what’s been difficult. I want to be able to connect back with my childhood and learn to see the positive in the pain.

During spring break, the weather wasn’t the greatest. It was always cloudy, but the murals helped brighten up my days.

A mural picturing smiling faces, a butterfly and a feathered cat in front of a landscape. The mural was created by Phillip “Phil” Simpson for the small business mural project in the fall of 2021 (Photo by Rhiannon Slotnick).

Since I haven’t been home as often as I want, I didn’t notice this mural until recently. In the article “Meet Phil Simpson, the Artist Behind Detroit’s Smile,” Simpson’s friend and mentor Distinct Life’s Rick Williams says that Simpson embodies the positivity his Smile brand represents.

“Anybody can draw a smiley face, but everybody is not Phil,” Williams said. “Everybody doesn’t have that spirit, Phil really embodies the Smile brand and believes in what he’s pushing.”

I think if people could take a walk around Detroit and notice the vibrant artwork, people would feel differently about it. I don’t believe it’s fair to attach a definition to a place if you’ve never been there. Not everyone has the same experience – and everywhere is someone’s home.

Detroit offers many things to its community: amazing food, talent and many unique small businesses. Several of the people I went to school with have become young entrepreneurs and have had successful experiences because of the connections they created.

You will always know a guy who knows a guy.

Sometimes it can be hard to find the beauty in everyday life, but if you take the time to look around and enjoy the simple things, your life might get a little better.

About Rhiannon Slotnick 28 Articles
Rhiannon Slotnick is a Junior from Detroit, Michigan. She is double majoring in English Literature Creative Writing and Sociology. She enjoys putting words on to paper for both work and for personal pleasure. If she's not writing, you can find her reading a book or stargazing around campus. You can contact her at rms15@albion.edu

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