“Poetry CAN Change Detroit,” Youth Poets Say [VIDEO]

Cody High School writers create verse about the city’s bankruptcy. See the video.

“Poetry can change Detroit. It can give people an idea of like what to do. It can inspire people to do things and make change.” — DeVaughn, senior at Cody.



They’ve lived Detroit’s bankruptcy from their west side neighborhoods. At first, the technicalities of the Chapter 9’s deals and settlements meant little to these students except that they included “selling off” pieces of their home city.

One student calls himself, his neighbors and classmates the “survivors.”

These high schoolers know that police, fire and paramedics take far too long to come to emergencies, and when they do, they’re navigating damaged, dark streets through vacated neighborhoods. They don’t know how the bankruptcy case changed any of that.

Sandra Svoboda

“They say everybody loses and not everybody wins,” wrote Asia, a junior at Cody – Detroit Institute of Technology College Prep High School, one of several schools in the city and metro region that are part of the InsideOut Literary Arts Project.

Designed, in part, to “get students more enthusiastic about writing,” InsideOut is one of the largest arts nonprofits in the city and has served more than 50,000 kids during its two decades, says Nichole Christian, InsideOut communications and marketing director.

What’s the group’s message to students?

“Your story matters, and we’re going to help you get it out there,” Christian says.

Seven Cody poets will be part of the Detroit Journalism Cooperative’s “Detroit Bankruptcy: One Year Later” event to be held from 6 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 9 at Wayne State University’s Community Arts Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public. Click here for more information or to register.

They’ll be performing an original poem about the bankruptcy and its effects, which means these high schoolers will share a stage with Gov. Rick Snyder, Mayor Mike Duggan, now-retired Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes, a group of community advocates and journalists from the DJC. 

Sandra Svoboda

As they prepared to write their group poem, the students had two workshops with WDET’s Sandra Svoboda, who covered the bankruptcy and maintained the website NextChapterDetroit.com, which houses original DJC work and other content, serving as a kind of archive about the historic case. The workshops were also inspired and supported by the Off/Page Project through The Center for Investigative Reporting.

In the workshops, the Cody students learned facts and figures about the city and, through Svoboda’s presentations, began to understand the basics of the complexities of municipal finance, how the case was settled and what questions still remain about Detroit’s future. The student poets then crafted a group poem about the city and will perform it at the Dec. 9 event.

“It gets me emotional to actually see my city like this,” Asia says. “After all these years, it gets me emotional to actually sit up and write stuff about our city.”

Click on the video above to learn more about the InsideOut Literary Arts Project and the poetry of the bankruptcy at Cody.

The video was produced by WDET’s Matt Morley and Sandra Svoboda.

Sandra Svoboda