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Without Community, We Are Nothing

Friday Night Lights

"Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can't Lose."

Fans of the film version of Friday Night Lights will recognize this line. Friday Night Lights, originally a book, then a film and eventually a much-loved, little-watched TV series, was, on the surface, about small town Texas football.

It’s also about normal, unexceptionally flawed people living in a place with a powerful, almost gravitational, set of defined beliefs and roles.

And you ask, how does a TV show about Texas high school football relate to Detroit?

Crossing The Lines

For the last year, the WDET staff has been working on “Crossing The Lines.” It’s “an exploration of what unites us and divides us as people and as a region.” The series is about many things, but it’s mostly about the ways we hurt ourselves when we amplify and accentuate our differences to undermine someone’s point of view and cast people aside. City-dweller/ suburbanite, race, class, education….

“Crossing The Lines” shoots past the usual “whither the future of Detroit?” conversations. Artists, Millennials and entrepreneurs, food deserts, changing the media “narrative” and the trifecta of education, safety and economic viability are important, relevant conversations. We think they hit the target, but miss the bullseye.

We know what this sounds like. “The suburbanites are trying to steal our precious jewels,” or “Detroit is lost, just plow it under” and it gets worse, “Mohammadans can go pound sand (preferably in Arabia). I am sick to death of the pandering to them in this country by the press and other Quislings.” See for yourself any day in the comments sections of The Free Press, The Detroit News or MLive.

This is one of the major hide-in-plain-sight issues holding back the region. In private conversation, people get passionate and have a lot to say. It’s a lot harder to make this a public conversation. This is an ugly part of our regional culture. The desire to have “positive” conversations has produced a muzzling effect. We paper over these issues when we say thing like, “sure, we have problems – no one’s denying that BUT…”

The BUT refuses to confront the accepted practice of vilifying people. Let’s just say it -- it’s legitimized discrimination.

This is tricky ground, but the last year’s research and reporting indicates that now is the time to have this conversation. Rob St Mary helped us kick off “Crossing The Lines” with an audio montage that captured 50 years of Detroit in the media. It wasn’t always fun to hear – and it’s been one of the most shared pieces of the year.

This week, The Craig Fahle Show dug into the topic. A remarkable interaction with Charles Pugh, Detroit City Council President, that provided a prime example of the problem led to a spirited, Friday morning follow up discussion. One week into an ongoing project and the message is clear: this strikes a nerve, it gets people thinking and it gets us having a real conversation about the way we behave as a community. Which brings me back to “Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can't Lose.”

Peter Berg, the director of Friday Night Lights and creator of the TV series, says the phrase is “…related to a theme that we explored in the movie where Billy Bob talked to the team about getting love in their hearts and playing with love in their hearts and winning not being the fundamental indication of success.”

When you hear the “Crossing The Lines” segments, would you try something? Think about all the talk about “regionalism” and “we’re in this together.” Listen with a mind toward whether we’re really acting like we’re a region when we toss someone aside. Listen for the occurrences of this behavior in your own life, from the people around you. Get in touch with us. Tell us how this affects you, how it makes you feel, how we can evolve this learned behavior. We won’t win as a region, we won’t have safer neighborhoods and better schools for our kids, we won't create a long-term growth trajectory unless we open our hearts to each other.

The stakes are high. Look at the voter turnout. We are not swimming in committed, active citizens. It’s an essential truth of our human condition that we are stronger together than apart and without community, we are nothing.

mikel ellcessor

Mikel Ellcessor
General Manager
WDET 101.9FM