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Imagine Detroit Together

Detroit, Michigan

James Feagin

By Amy Kuras
March 3, 2014

"Imagine what Detroit could be if we all worked together?"
That question rose on a billboard during the Auto Show three years ago, alongside a painting by artist Migeul "BeloZro" Yeoman. It was placed there by a group called Imagine Detroit Together.
It's an interesting question – and is central to how James Feagin, one half of the team that launched Imagine Detroit Together, operates as a citizen of Detroit.
Feagin is one of those people Detroit is flush with and needs even more of – people who know everyone and are willing to introduce Enthusiastic Idea Person A to Funder And Resources Person B so things can get done. More to the point, he seems to operate largely outside the tight-knit circles of cliques and factions that can work against each other as much as they work together. "Imagine Detroit Together came out of my frustration and disappointment around New Detroit and Old Detroit getting to know each other," he says. "There is a lot of fear about change (from people who have been here) and a lot of folks coming in having strong opinions but not having contexts and understanding. All these dynamics are taking place, and we're trying to build a foundation for a relationship amid all the shouting."
That tension between Old Detroit and New Detroit is based on a lot of assumptions about what happened here over the last 50 years and how to change it, Feagin says. Older people and African Americans are seen as "Old Detroit" that wants things as they are, and young white creatives are seen as "New Detroit" who jump into projects without a lot of thought or context. Getting those two sides to drop the negative assumptions and talk to each other is key to any recovery for the city, he says.
"There's an automatic identification process that takes place," he says. "Before any words have been shared or any opportunities can be reached you've already formed opinions of everything that comes out of the other person's mouth."
One project that bridged those gaps was Hopscotch Detroit, which brought together artists, community people and a ton of chalk to create the world's longest hopscotch course throughout the city. Wedge Detroit, which got the project started, was a group of young artists from Ann Arbor with few connections in the city. They met up with Feagin, who helped them get the whole thing launched. It ended up being not only a world-record setter, but something that bridged those gaps in organic ways.
"When you put hopscotch in a neighborhood where kids are, and parents and grandmas, and then these young artists, you have [created] an environment to build relationships. It's not so contentious, and a different relationship can occur when people just get around each other."
Feagin's resume is as varied as the projects he's been involved in, everything from working in digital marketing to doing development work. Imagine Detroit Together allows him a venue to get involved in intriguing projects without a formal nonprofit structure, he says. That means that they need to collaborate on every project that intrigues them, versus being one of a thousand unsustainable do-gooders with big ideas and little execution.
"We're like this band that got together and enjoyed making music, but didn’t want to make an album every two years," he says. "We wanted to stay really flexible and not be married to any specific outcome. It's about a large scale demonstration of unity."
Feagin says he's optimistic both personally and professionally about the things that are possible in the coming year. "I think there's a lot of opportunity," he says. "Hopefully there will be a lot more chances for connecting."

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

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