Why I'm Walking With Friends

Amid all the excitement about the city's renaissance, there are tensions simmering too. There is a lot of conversation and debate about the "new" Detroit and the "old" Detroit.

I've been involved in a lot of these "new" things, and people love talking about them. But one older institution I've been involved with is the Friends School of Detroit and even as I type this sentence I can feel interest shutting down.

"Aren't you starting a new spiritual yoga brewery t-shirt factory we can talk about instead?"

Come on, let's talk about Friends School.

President Obama sends his daughters to a Friends' school in D.C., so did President Clinton. So did Teddy Roosevelt. There is a tradition and heritage around Friends education that is truly impressive.

Our own heritage is profound. Friends School has been here for exactly fifty years. The school has struggled, but it has survived. The Grande isn't here anymore. Hudson's isn't here anymore. Stroh's isn't here anymore. But Friends School is, and why more people don't celebrate that fact absolutely amazes me. Why more people don't step up to support the school, especially as we are working to attract new residents downtown, completely shocks me.

Part of the issue is that people don't know what a "Friend" is. When they hear the term "Quaker" they look even more startled. "Like the guy on a box of Quaker Oats?" they joke, nervously looking for a way out.

I understand. These are busy people. Everyone is rushing towards the future. Nobody has time these days to look back.

We're all in such a rush to forget.

But the key to the future of Detroit lies in education. Without it, this city is going nowhere. A real education is not just about STEM or STEAM, it's also about history, looking back to see who we are and how we got here. And when we look back, we see a lot of Quakers.

Quakers have been in Michigan a long, long time. In fact, they played a critical role in one of the most important chapters of Detroit's past: the underground railroad. Decades before the first shot had been fired in the Civil War, Quaker abolitionists like Dr. Nathan Thomas, Zachariah Shugart, Erastus Hussey, and Elizabeth Chandler and had already helped thousands of slaves find their way through Michigan to freedom.

It's worth studying all that history, it contains fantastic adventures and real heroics. It's ripping yarn stuff (read about Laura Smith Haviland! She's amazing!) From abolition to civil rights, from non-violence to economic justice, Quakers have been very busy in Detroit.

In fact, the reason there is a Friends School at all is because of those values. When Wade McCree moved his family here from Boston in the early 60's, his daughter had already been accepted to a local private school. But when she showed up on the first day, they noticed she wasn't white. So, she was not allowed into that school.

In response, McCree and other members of the community started the Friends School, an institution that, to this day, works to support an inclusive and tolerant Detroit. A Detroit for everyone.

This weekend is the "Walk With Friends" fundraiser at the Friends School. We are working to raise money for the school's 50th Anniversary. Fifty years! There will be a lot of great kids and parents and neighbors and friends there. We won't just be walking for the school, we'll be walking for everything the school stands for: for peace, tolerance, and justice.

We'll be walking towards the future.

Please join us.

The Walk With Friends begins at 9:00 am, this Saturday, April 25. We will meet at Friends School Detroit campus at 1100 Saint Aubin Street, Detroit (right by the Dequindre Cut).