Detroit is Different Community Group is a nonprofit Michigan corporation formed by Khary Frazier to bridge the gap between marginalized Black Detroiters and traditional local media outlets by producing an annual 12-week summer series entitled a lot of Studio.” An obvious play on words and true to its name, a lot of Studio creates the live studio audience experience within the heart of a westside Detroit neighborhood by conducting live weekly podcasts with in-person guests on four vacant lots which serve as the “studio” for the production. a lot of Studio consists of three distinct components that each serve to empower its audience and address the issues that are important to them:
- The podcast series;
- The urban farming produce giveaway component; and
- The entertainment component.
Each component of the a lot of Studio podcast production is anchored in Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of the Pan African holiday, Kwanzaa, created by activist-scholar Maulana Karenga as a source for addressing the Detroit related issues that matter to its audience. Those seven guiding principles are Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-determination), Ujima (Collective work & responsibility), Ujaama (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith). The premise is that by utilizing culturally centered principles relevant to people of African descent as a basis for discussing issues that are impacting Black Detroit residents, they will also serve as a guide for thought and behavior for all parties involved when the issues are raised and discussed.
- The Live Podcasts
The panel discussions with in-person guests, before a live audience, are the lynchpin of the a lot of Studio experience. Structured as a live podcast, each a lot of Studio “episode” is a four-hour event. The first two hours of the live podcast consist of a group discussion led by influential Detroiters as podcast hosts and guest panelists. A lot of Studio podcasts are designed to avoid the communication missteps that are an inherent part of traditional media coverage of most Detroit-related issues (i.e. incomplete information, perpetuating stereotypes) by making untold or under-reported Detroit narratives about current issues that are important to Black Detroiters the focus of each discussion. Detroit is Different Community Group and the hosts for each podcast work together to frame the topic for each “episode” in a way that maximizes audience participation. Detroit is Different Community Group will rotate one of the seven principles of Nguzo Saba: (Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work & Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith) as reoccurring themes for each podcast topic. Hosts more narrowly frame podcast topics by using their personal experiences and expertise to connect with the audience members and help to demonstrate how the topics are personally relevant to them.
The public discourse created between the podcast host, the panel of guests, and the audience during the live podcast is transformative. The conventional role of audience members is changed from passive to participatory as they are encouraged to be a part of the open and free-flowing dialogue. This also introduces an air of unpredictability into the equation that further adds to the excitement of the live podcast. Because of its engaging and interactive features, the live podcast component of the a lot of Studio events provides an important and unique platform for all in attendance to become energized and to participate in constructive, proactive public conversations about issues that are important to the Detroit community.
2. The Urban Farming Produce Giveaway Component
Detroit has been described as a food desert for more than a decade.
The term “food desert,” is frequently used to describe areas in which residents lack access to fresh, nutritious, and affordable food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food deserts as “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast-food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options.” It describes the consequences of food deserts as, “The lack of access contributes to a poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.” In addition to identifying the sources of both healthful and unhealthful food, the USDA also explicitly connects the lack of access to supermarkets and grocery stores to poor diet and unfavorable health outcomes.
According to a 2015 study by Dorceta E. Taylor and Kerry J. Ard entitled, Detroit’s Food Justice and Food Systems, only three percent (3%) of Detroiters obtain their food from supermarkets or large grocery stores. In contrast, an overwhelming 68% of Detroiters rely on fast-food restaurants, gas stations, liquor stores, or party stores as their primary sources for food, none of which are known for serving or selling healthy foods. The scarcity of healthy food source outlets for Detroit residents is reflected in the city’s diabetes and obesity rates which both exceed national averages.
In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 10.6% of adults in Detroit had diabetes, more than the national share of 9.3%. Diabetes increases the risk of blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, and stroke. Ultimately, the risk of death is 50% higher for adults with diabetes than those without. Diabetes causes 76,600 deaths in the U.S. annually or roughly 24 per 100,000 Americans. In Detroit, there are 396 diabetes-related deaths per 100,000 residents, approximately 16 times more than the national mortality rate.
Similarly, 30.8% of Detroit residents are obese, higher than the national rate of 27.0%. According to the CDC, a person with a bodyweight that is higher than what is considered healthy for a given height is obese. Obesity is also associated with the leading causes of death in the United States and worldwide, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.
In an effort to combat the limited access to healthy food and fresh produce within Detroit neighborhoods and to help reverse the growing health crises among Detroit residents arising from diabetes and obesity, Detroit is Different Community Group has included an urban farming component to its a lot of Studio series. A portion of the four vacant lots where the a lot of Studio episodes are produced is dedicated to urban farming. During a lot of Studios’ inaugural season, eight raised bed garden boxes were built on the lots. Seasonal fresh vegetable crops, including but not limited to collard greens, eggplant, zucchini, and potatoes were organically grown, harvested, and donated to a lot of Studio audience members free of charge throughout the 12-week series.
In addition, at least one of the principles of Nguzo Saba are evident in the urban farming component of a lot of Studio program’s work and mission: Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
In addition to filling the community’s need for access to healthy food and fresh produce to bolster community health through food, a lot of Studio further seeks to attract and serve members of the community by offering its audience members the fresh organically grown produce free of charge and distributing the free produce from the site of the lot of Studio event to minimize economic hardship and lack of transportation as barriers to taking advantage of this opportunity.
3. The Entertainment Component
Music has been used throughout history as a tool for restoring the voices of fractured communities by offering a musical response to social marginalization that crosses all musical genres. For instance, the lyrical content of the Blues consistently reflects whatever social challenges Black communities are facing at the time. In a similar fashion, music historians have highlighted the parallels between the music of free jazz artists such as Charles Mingus and John Coltrane that emerged during the 1960s and the community self-sufficiency and do for self-movements that were prevalent in Black communities during that time. More recently in 1989, Chuck D of the iconic rap group Public Enemy deemed rap to be “Black America’s CNN.”
Much like music, stand-up comedy has also provided an outlet for marginalized populations to dispel stereotypes and reclaim lost power. Black comedians Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor, Paul Mooney, Chris Rock, and most recently Dave Chappelle, have all effectively used the stage to hold a mirror up to society, both reflecting and retracting social norms in order to increase tolerance by raising awareness and social consciousness.
Motivated by the proven track record of success using music and comedy as tools to vocalize and amplify the concerns of marginalized communities, coupled with the desire to incorporate the Nguzo Saba principle Kuumba (Creativity) as a permanent fixture in the lot of Studio live podcasts format, each “episode” includes a live musical or comedic performance. After the live podcast segment of each a lot of Studio event ends, it is followed by a live performance by an entertainer, either a musical or comedic guest, to close out each episode. The performance schedule for the inaugural season of a lot of Studio series featured an eclectic group of musicians covering a broad cross-section of musical genres including, jazz, R & B, classical, blues, house, techno, and African music. Two standup comedians were also included as a part of the entertainment lineup.
Written by Attorney Stephanie L Hammonds