After the killing of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter protests began in Detroit on May 29, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Stephen McGee)

Over the next week, the BridgeDetroit newsroom will highlight their must-read stories of 2020. The BIPOC newsroom hopes to tell in-depth stories of a great American city. 

For 16 years, I helped chronicle the epic nature of my native Detroit for one of the city’s major newspapers. I’m proud of a lot of my reporting there. But after years of painful cuts in staff, and the constant pressure of a 24/7 news cycle, the chance to tell in-depth stories about Detroit kept shrinking. 

I feel blessed to be a part of BridgeDetroit. One reason for that feeling is neatly explained in the news release announcing our May debut: “The newsroom is made up entirely of African-American and Latino journalists, who represent the community it covers.” As a veteran Detroit reporter, I can confirm that statement is groundbreaking.  

The May launch of BridgeDetroit came when COVID-19 was killing far too many Detroiters. Many media outlets were reporting that grim fact. What was missing in the coverage was the many examples of resiliency and support Detroiters provided to one another. By simply gathering at the same time, Southwest’s Vinewood Street becomes an emotional refuge amid a deadly crisis.

Another example of taking a deeper dive than other media is our look at the history of the former Uniroyal plant near Belle Isle. A planned RiverWalk link is the first development close to becoming reality on the massive property in nearly 40 years.  It was a great opportunity to write about the city’s decades-long struggle to revive former factory sites, and also look at the hardball politics behind big development deals. 

BridgeDetroit’s Managing Editor Catherine Kelly suggested I write the story. I point that out because she has deep ties to the city and knew what kind of riches were embedded in the story.  That kind of institutional knowledge is sadly waning in many Detroit newsrooms. The result is shallow stories. 

I also enjoyed writing about the Detroit Institute of Arts facing charges of systemic racism by some of its staff and other supporters. Other media covered that story first, but we waited until we found enough voices to write a story explaining how the DIA has a reputation for landmark commitments to showcasing Black artists while simultaneously facing calls for reform. 

Stories about the Black Lives Matter movement dominated our summer. I like to think our story on the first weekend of protests and clashes with police helps define our ongoing effort to write about the complexities of the issue. 

Then came Donald Trump and conservatives’ ongoing assault to steal Michigan’s election. Many baseless conspiracies focus on Detroit’s election. It is critical we combat the fraudulent theories through stories like this one, which was written the day an angry crowd tried to stop Detroit’s ballots from being counted

Finally, I always cherish writing about my family’s unique claim to a city masterpiece: Diego, Frida and my grandfather in Depression-era Detroit. The story wasn’t just a nostalgic exercise. During a violent and economically-bleak era, my family saw the value of Detroit even as many thought it was all gloom and doom here. The story also ran in a special edition of Detroit Metro Times. The city’s alternative paper was struggling to survive the economic fallout of Covid-19. I was among the local writers and other artists who donated works for the special edition. The artists were asked to share what is giving them hope during the pandemic. 

I hope our stories about Detroit give you hope.

Detroit neighbors find community during coronavirus isolation

By simply gathering at the same time, Southwest’s Vinewood Street becomes an emotional refuge amid a deadly crisis. 

After 39 years of sitting idle, part of Detroit Uniroyal site on path to revival

A planned RiverWalk link on a post-industrial wasteland near Belle Isle is the first development close to becoming reality on the property. Over the decades, the site attracted plenty of bad ideas and mean politics.

Detroit museum renowned for investing in Black art. Staff says it’s all show.

The Detroit Institute of Arts has made major strides in showcasing African-American art and in its outreach to Black Detroiters. Is that progress enough to withstand charges of institutional racism and a ‘toxic’ workplace?

Pain, strength and agitation underlie Detroit’s protests against police brutality

What happened in Detroit and the streets of at least 35 other cities reflects the raw state of urban America. Months of dealing with a killer virus. Surging economic despair. Then another viral video emerged of a Black man killed while being arrested by a white policeman in Minneapolis.

What happened when conservatives tried to halt Detroit’s election count

Republicans contend that not enough conservative challengers are monitoring Detroit’s vote count. That’s not true, officials say.

Diego, Frida, and my grandfather in Depression-era Detroit

The author’s grandfather, Antonio Martinez, met the artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Depression-era Detroit.

Louis Aguilar is BridgeDetroit’s senior reporter. He covered business and development for the Detroit News, and is a former reporter for the Washington Post.

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