Detroit blacks own a piece of the AMERICAN DREAM.
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In front of Mrs. Bell's house a group of children are playing what looks like a highly esoteric game of tag. You can tell by her prancing grands jet'es that 10-year-old Aquilla Jr. takes ballet lessons. Over her summer vacation she's also taking tennis lessons at the community activities center a few blocks away. And, according to her mother, young Aquilla is an avid reader. The local public library is one of their favorite haunts.Skip to next paragraph
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But Mrs. Bell's version of the American Dream has not been without challenges. For one thing, she and Aquilla's father are divorced. He lives in another state, where the child visits him regularly. Mrs. Bell works full-time as a nutritionist. She chose a private school for her daughter, in part because it offers many extracurricular activities to occupy her until she picks her up after work. Moreover, Detroit public schools are noted for low academic achievement, high dropout rates, drug problems, and shootings.
While Mrs. Bell tends her lawn on the west side of town, Kenny Williams is polishing his white Camaro on the East Side. The houses on his street are a little larger than Mrs. Bell's -- two-story, with old-fashioned porches for enjoying the long summer evenings. Mr. Williams's mother lives across the street, and this evening she is sitting on her porch reading. Williams, too, is divorced, and his daughter, Deja, who usually lives with her mother in another part of town, is visiting him. He has nothing but good things to say about his neighbors and his neighborhood.
``We look out for each other,'' he says. ``The neighborhood's nice. You can go outside. You don't have to worry about your children when they go racing down the street.''
A small group has converged around Williams and Deja and the steady, percussive beat from his radio. There's his girlfriend, Helen Matthews, who works in an automotive factory, and his brother, J. W., a recent (public) high school graduate who won a scholarship to the University of Mississippi to study architecture. And there's J. W.'s friend, Mike Flint, who just graduated from a parochial school, and plans to go into computers.
When Williams is asked what most people do in his neighborhood, his reply, with a laugh, is emphatic. ``They work, that's what they do. Some of them work in factories. Some of them are [security] guards. Some of them are police officers.''
Williams himself is a computer operator. Like Mrs. Bell, he sends his daughter to a private school. ``So she can get the best that she can,'' he says. ``You need all the extras you can get right now. . . . You got high technology, and the economy is being transformed. You need a whole lot of education to keep up with the times.''
In recent years, ``the times'' have presented Detroit with some difficult challenges. In the downtown business district, a number of large stores -- most notably Hudson's department store -- have closed down and moved to suburban shopping malls. In spite of impressive efforts to revive the area, some downtown streets are strangely empty, even on a weekday morning. And in late afternoon, the commuters waiting in line for buses to take them back to the suburbs are almost exclusively white. Despite the peaceful, orderly, middle-class neighborhoods within the city limits, many Detroiters, black and white, moved out in their efforts to preserve their version of the American Dream.
But like visitors to Detroit today, they would probably be surprised if they returned to the neighborhoods they left during the '60s and '70s. They would find that, in spite of problems, the American Dream is indeed alive and well in Detroit.