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Detroit mayor says young people lead city’s renaissance


Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan takes questions from Greenhills students March 17, 2015.

An odd thing happened to a teenaged Mike Duggan on his way to a Detroit Lions game in the late 1970s. The future mayor of Detroit noticed that it seemed to be taking forever to get to the stadium. 

That’s because, Duggan told Greenhills students packing the Campbell Center for his visit this week, the stadium wasn’t in Detroit anymore. It was in Pontiac.

Duggan—on hand to mark Greenhills’ Detroit Day, a service day in the city coming up April 17—recalled that bleak time for his hometown. In addition to its football team, the city had hemorrhaged jobs, residents—and hope.

He decided it was up to young people to bring it back.

Years later, Duggan—whose son Patrick is a 2011 Greenhills grad—had a chance to help do that. By then he was an official in Wayne County government, and helping manage construction of Comerica Park, where the Detroit Tigers would play. One day, Bill Ford—whose family owns the Detroit Lions, and whose own kids also attended Greenhills—suggested that, if Duggan could figure out a way to fit a football stadium on the same site as the Tigers’ new ballpark, his family was willing to move the team back to the city.

And ultimately, that’s exactly what happened.

“We got that deal done,” Duggan said. “And Comerica and Ford Field (were) a big part of the rebirth” of the central city.

While he noted the progress the city has made, he acknowledged that there is still much to be done. He highlighted a surprise chess match he found himself playing with an 8-year-old girl at one of Detroit’s public schools, a match that turned into a draw before someone finally told him she was Michigan’s 8-and-under chess champion. Later, students from that same school won a national championship competing against students from far better-equipped public and private schools.

“There is enormous talent in the city, but they aren’t getting the same kind of opportunities that others get,” Duggan said.

He hopes to continue turning that around. So far, he said, his team is making progress—which, for him, fits in with one lesson he’s learned well over the years.

“When you follow your heart,” he said, “life tends to work out.”

Saturday, April 24
Open to anyone ages 16 and up. Limited quantities available.
Greenhills is closed for mid-winter break and will return on Tuesday, Feb. 22.