Data Driven Detroit (D3) is dedicated to sharing much of the data we collect, compile, and visualize. Our website hosts numerous tools for accessing data and we’re developing more training opportunities for interested people to learn more about data. In the meantime, public speaking opportunities are still the best way we are able to talk about the important work we do.
Late September to early November is one of the busiest periods for conferences and meetings, so it results in many speaking requests. While 2012 is one of my busiest years to date, I had a particularly gratifying opportunity last week.
D3 was contacted by several teachers at Birmingham Groves High School through the “Ask Kurt” button on the D3 website. The request from Paul Van Ermen read:
Greetings, Mr. Metzger;
I represent a team of teachers who are interested in having our 11th grade Composition students write an expository essay on a current critical issue that is facing metro Detroiters. We have polled the students and compiled their interests into 6 topics… Might you be willing to spend 90 minutes of time in early October in addressing our 80 total students with a challenge and inspiration as we begin our project?
Previous opportunities to speak to students through Generations of Promise and the Mosaic Youth Theater have been some of my favorite experiences, so I was honored and intrigued by the offer. I contacted Paul and discussed the project, finding that the six topics they had identified were:
1. Urban Farming
2. Poverty and Homelessness
3. Public Transportation
4. Crime and Justice in Detroit and Southeast Michigan
5. Business Investment and Development
6. Public Schools
Not only were these great topics, but I was reminded by my daughter that my son-in-law was a Groves graduate and that she hoped to have her 10-month old daughter attend Groves. I was hooked.
Over the course of three class sessions on Tuesday, October 16, I was able to meet Paul and his partners – Joyce Laszczak and Karen Reed-Nordwall – and speak to approximately 100 students. I was even monitored by Principal Procter during the first of the three periods! The students were attentive (they neither talked nor snored) and had prepared questions in advance. Paul bought me a school lunch – it was pretty healthy, I might add – and I have connected with Principal Procter on LinkedIn.
It was extremely gratifying to see high school students being exposed to issues in the context of Detroit and the larger region. Too many adults have become quite parochial in their interests and our region has become divided by geography, race, and self-interest. Frequently I have discussions in which the next generation is identified as the one that will make everything better. They have that potential, but they need to be exposed to the issues so that they can better understand what they need to do. I have that hope for many of the students I saw on Tuesday, and I hope that more teachers across this region will see the importance of following the lead of Paul, Joyce and Karen.
I sent Paul an email of thanks on Wednesday and received this in return:
MANY THANKS for your 3 excellent presentations yesterday! The teachers and I were thrilled with your work and our students are lucky to have you share your wisdom. Your preparation, though second nature to you, seems WON[D]ERFUL to us, and is greatly appreciated!
I return the thanks for the opportunity.