Marsha Music

The Detroitist

Just Say Hi! (The Gentrification Blues)

Originally published in the Detroit cultural journal, Infinite Mile; and in

London’s Hero Magazine, below:

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All around Detroit we talk, from shops to congregations
There’s much discussion of the city’s new Gentrification
and all the changes with the folks a’moving to the D
the changes in our lifetime thought we’d never live to see
We talk about The Newcomers, with righteous consternation,
ol’ school exasperation, ‘bout a disconcerting thing –
“They don’t even SPEAK!” we say, when we get on the subject
our mantra of rejection of in-vi-si-bi-lity
Our indignation hides the sting of truly being unseen,
of being looked – right through – in our own city
Ralph Ellison, he wrote of this so many years ago
Walk past and never turn an eye to see us oh! what pity!
Detroit’s a place wherein we “speak” to you in varied tones
Hey! Hi! Hello! How ya’ doin’? Whazzup? What’s happ’nen’? Whaddup Doe!

Detroit is widely said to be a big, small southern town
the separation’s one or two degrees, is what we’ve found
We nod our heads at passersby; acknowledge other folks
Goes back to railroads underground, rebukes of ol’ Jim Crow
We do affirm and say a word to those whom we pass by
A simple thing but means a lot to us, so

Just Say Hi!

From Ottowa, the Huron and the Potowatamie
Then French and Europeans, enslaved Blacks came to be free
an immigration influx, then a torrent from the South
The People Of Detroit, ‘tis true they come from many routes
To old Black Bottom’s death, and then the birth of Lafayette Park
Old strip farms, townships, properties, transitions we’ve embarked
Horses, autos; racetracks, roads; now Slow Roll rules the lanes
The time has come, it has begun, Detroit sees change, again
Newcomers here will walk with us into the coming years,
Join those of us who’ve still held on, see how we’ve persevered
We faced upheavals through the years, that caused Detroiters many tears
So now, again we rearrange – the lifeblood of this town is Change

Just Say Hi!

Black Folks (Whites, too) whom I’ve long known, who’ve lived here for a lifetime,
discuss Newcomers frequently – Midtown, Downtown and ‘round town –
who move to ‘hoods as more each day they’re priced out of the core
but bring excited spirits to the corners of Detroit
We have to tell the difference from among those who are new
The ones sincere and earnest and respect both me and you
For most of those who’re coming here, they love this city, too
But we all know there’re those who just have dollars in their view

Just Say Hi!

Now some deny they gentrify in devastated D,
they move to empty spaces – no displacement they can see
and think that since the building stock was emptied long ago,
no one’s displaced from this old place, so no one’s had to go
But don’t forget our memories are carved deep into our souls
We lived, and worked, took care of biz, then time for us to roll
They pushed us, moved us, crime’d us out, then time did take its toll
those barren places all stood guard; we drove by, walked past old facades,
then decades hence, we were replaced – just took long years to fill the space,
It matters not how long it takes; oh yes, we’ve still been gentrified.

And here’s a new twist to the game – those Newcomers that were so brave
or smart or poor or hopeful, strong; or techno, hip or all strung out
or artful, slick or really savvy – arrived before big money landed
they get eviction noticed too – and pushed from Downtown by the new
Now they share in other’s fate and seek new rents at lower rates – gentrifried

Just Say Hi!

But yes, there’s gentrifying norm, folks old and frail with bodies worn
or recovering from drink or drugs; grateful, proud of old, quiet rooms,
in big apartments in Downtown, on “ghost town” streets, they lived in peace,
grateful in their sober lives, a place to rest from dark to dawn
or kids who made the DJ sounds, the techno parties, drew the crowds
Downtown when it wasn’t cool, kept the buildings from emptying out
Landlords got their Section 8, win-win in Downtown Detroit’s Dark days
Now realtors come to speculate, announce that they will renovate
Open back at “market rates” – time to shop for another place

Just Say Hi!

We talk about the buildings, all the barren, ragged mastodons,
old factories, shops and corner stores, warehouse structures, built to last
Ghoulish hulks of prosperity past, when streets weren’t split by overpass
Ghastly end-days totems rise, burn retinal scars in childrens’ eyes
owned by investor absentees, awaiting days when values rise
vultures trying just to see, the profit possibilities
We co-exist with nightmares-scapes, the charred and grisly devastated
built environs (and ‘fore our eyes, the Heidleberg becomes a pyre)
The ruin porn photographers are clever choreographers
of images that skew the way, we live here in Detroit each day
Worship ruins like religion, treat our protest with derision
they love that urban detritus, with little care of what hurts us

Just Say Hi!

You see, we live on many blocks that seem unaltered by the clock
With neighborhoods of much good care, of lovely lawns and kept-up yards
and look, with just a camera’s twist, it seems as if we don’t exist
But now Newcomers have arrived, our neighborhoods get newly eyed
and even so, for sure we know, how hard we fought to keep our homes
and though we know we were ignored, our labor was its own reward
for our beloved city rests, on many shoulders that were blessed
We had no time to feel bereft, we carried on when others left

Just Say Hi!

We speak of the Abandonment, of the great leaving years ago
Plants and stores and factories, taking jobs and money flow
We arrived, the neighbors left, not so much fled, but driven out
across 8 Mile, pawns in a game, of money makers, turning land
and properties, over again and again
Run out, I’d say by their own fear, manipulated by the hands
that instigated; profiteers, that made the money as they ran
and as they left their busted-blocks, and fled their grand homes lock and stock.
I wonder what it did it to us, to watch them flee and scorn us thus

Just Say Hi!

We talk about foreclosures, of the forcing out and moving in
the transfers of this property impacts all generations kin
We speak of landlords who deny, a yearly lease in many shops
and make their tenants month-to-month, a‘waiting for their big jackpot
We talk about the magic way that blocks and lots and streets turn safe
as with the turning of a switch, or raising of some unseen flag
on top of newly conquered land, where seems they take some unseen stand
They jog and walk and skate with ease, in places we don’t dare drive streets
We talk of all new words for things – old ‘hoods are now called villages,
there’s city kids – not urban teens; beer gardens now – not liquor stores
and serve craft beers, and gourmet wines and yes, they artisanally dine
The nomenclature of the new, yet wonder if they’ll speak to you

Just say Hi!

We talk around but don’t admit our secret joy at seeing them,
come scout about our neighborhood or moving in, oh this is good!
or OMG – what’s that we spied? A baby stroller rolling by!
For knowing that as soon they come, that with their move the trash will run
and lights turn on and cops will ride, it’s back to being civilized
ignoring all our efforts past, when we grew weary with the test
and now we’re old and holding on, they act as if we caused the mess
and knowing yet with all our years, of taxes, cutting grass, repairs
and bills and block clubs, fences fixed; we tried to rest but then transfixed
with years on hold while devil crack, made mockery of all of that
We watched the blocks of many friends be commandeered by crackhouse men
Now that we’ve had some years of peace, they’ve switched the drugs for bacchanals
in neighborhoods that we now share, but treated like we are not there.
by those who come here to “reclaim”, as if they’ve just come here to gain

Just Say Hi!

Now there are those who just reject, the businesses folks who’ve been on deck
through all those years it wasn’t cool, to shop with our entrepreneurs
Now they so often get ignored – I’m sure that sometimes they are floored –
by how Newcomers get such play, compared to those who’ve paved the way
But yes, I am a celebrant of signs of new development
And yes it’s true, that I’m in love with more new shops and shiny stores
and watches too, and lovely styles in newfound shops and peacock aisles
I just make sure I don’t forget, the ones who first did pay the debt

Just Say Hi!

We talk of The Newcomers, all their art and youthful energy
Rebuild the Third World city! They’ve come to save the day, you see
Like Peace Corp kids, sincere and smart, they’ve come to BE saved, I retort
They fall in love with urban heart, inside the city’s horseshoe arc
We talk about the New Downtown, the phalanxes of suits and art
The laptops, khakis, polo tops; jobs open up like Belle Isle flowers
So many have a real head-start, inherit square feet in the city’s heart
Connections and money already a part, of their success before they start
Don’t get me wrong, we’re happy now, at all the progress, all around,
but bitter sweetness for our own, our sons and daughters leaving home;
still taking flight so far from town, they look for work a ways around
It matters not what media says, the renaissance seems not for them

Just Say Hi!

We grieve for kids with De-troit lives so ill-prepared to step inside
the bubble of the phoenix rise, but yet we try to empathize
Newcomers step into the place, that our young folks were born to take
until their schools put on the brakes, with opportunities erased
So we must do all that we can, to reach to those who raise a hand
To pull them into new Detroit, so that they’ll have great new exploits

See some Newcomers never lived, or worked around Black people here
Now find themselves creating ‘burbs, right inside Detroit streets and curbs
In enclaves made for just themselves, with coffee bars and foodie shelves
They do forget that we’re the source, of Detroit’s urban cool and soul
and just remember we must share, in all of this new Detroit flair
From businesses to urban farms, we’re leaders – as we always are

Just Say Hi!

Some take no time to navigate, complexities of diverse race
We’re urban background, just a haze; dark corridors through which they race,
to get to the Newcomer space where they can revel in the place
of cloistered corners of the D and never try to see our face
Some come from Lions, Tigers dens and even if they lose or win
they never see us as they pass, before and aft the sport and games

There are Newcomers who engage, with all Detroiters of all age
I have a dear assemblage of, Newcomer young folks whom I love
They’ve rolled up sleeves and lent their skills, to push this city past its ills
Enriching lives (as they do mine), I’m grateful that I’ve stayed alive
To see the rebirth come along, as long as we don’t push aside
the eitghty plus percent of us, who’ve lived and worked here all the time
Some new kids who’d be a part, of everything that’s 8 miles south
Can’t figure how to get up close, some walk past us, just saying naught
Some come and ask me what to say, a ten-point plan? a 12-step way?
To start to the talk the Dee-troit way – it’s simple:

Just say Hi!

Hi says you’re in the city, and you’re glad to be here with me
Hi says you share this street, this store, this wait in line, stand with me
Hi says that you don’t fear we’ll ask, for dollars or a quarter
Hi says you’re not ignoring me, that we are all Detroiters
Hi says you don’t mean to offend, or make the wrong reply
Hi says you just don’t know what else to say, but Hi is fine
Hi says, I See You – You see Me; we’re in the D together
Hi says we’ll show each other how to live – we have the choice
Help me embrace you, teach you, know you – welcome to Detroit!


Copyright 2015 – Marsha Music

I was honored to have been asked to be a part of the launch of  a six-month series of articles on art & gentrification, the result of a new partnership between the University of Michigan Penny W. Stamps School of Art and the Design and the arts and culture journal, Infinite Mile .
      At my public presentations of my essay The Kidnapped Children of Detroit  (about White Flight – out of, and now back into the city; on this website) I  talk about some of the vicissitudes of life in the areas of the city that are rapidly gentrifying –  a coda, if you will, to the Kidnapped Children piece. So I determined to put some of these thoughts into an essay for the Infinite Mile’s Gentrification Issue. I tried, using the form of poetry, to capture some of the nuanced, layered, and contentious issues surrounding gentrification in Detroit.
In December 2015, Just Say Hi was also published in London, in Hero magazine, a rad British fashion/lifestyle periodical.

 – with special thanks to editor Jennifer Junkmeier for the invitation to contribute, and to my editor Stephen Garrett Dewer:

[btw, I do not use the term gentrification and redevelopment interchangeably.   Redevelopment and restoration are desired requisites of insuring Detroit’s future; gentrification is the inequitable displacement of people in the name of said progress – most often based on class and race.]

9 thoughts on “Just Say Hi! (The Gentrification Blues)

  1. Thanks so much for this piece, Marsha. Saying “Hi” has been our operating principle, thus far. I appreciate hearing/hoping that we might be on the right track — especially given how much we fly by the seat of our pants! 😉

    I’m so glad Corey and I got to spend time speaking with you and David last night. I look forward to more opportunities to connect. Warmly, Stefanie

  2. Wow, Marsha, that’s brilliant! I don’t even know what else to say so I’ll just say Hi!
    Leslie R., Highland Park, MI.

  3. Pingback: Walk with us, part 4 – It’s about You!

  4. Why thank you Leslie ..

  5. Thanks so much Stephanie! I look forward to visiting your performance space on Linwood and Blaine, again.

  6. Really love this as it sums up so much. It needs to be shared widely and hopefully more will Just Say Hi! Rather than pass by in a gentrifying manner.

  7. Thanks Fuzzy; I hope I tapped into a real sentiment. For sure, many newcomers tell me, after reading this, that they are much more aware of saying “Hi.”

  8. Fabian J.Koark, Invensity .His Name is not mentioned, but I can recognise him in your poem/Song. He is one of those Newcomers.

  9. Well, I don’t know if you mean the “good” Newcomers of which I speak or the other ones. But I’ve never heard him.

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