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Liggett, still connected to Detroit

Detroit City Councilman Andre Spivey spoke to Liggett ninth-graders about the challenges facing Detroit. Photos courtesy of Ron Bernas
May 09, 2013
The following article by Ron Bernas, Director of Communications at University Liggett School, was reprinted from Liggett Life, Liggett’s (almost) daily blog about life at the school. For more Liggett Life, visit blogs.uls.org/liggettlife.

T.J. Rogers tells Liggett’s third-graders about the work of Freedom House.
Our oldest predecessor school, The Liggett School, started in a home in Detroit in 1878. Today, more than 130 years later, University Liggett School keeps up its strong connection with Detroit.

That was demonstrated in two unrelated events (in April), one in the Upper School and one in the Lower School.

On Monday, (April 15), Detroit City Councilman Andre Spivey was the guest speaker to all our ninth-grade students. The students, who embarking upon a project centered on Detroit in their required Research and Discovery class.

Spivey, who’s also an ordained minister, had a lot to talk about — but he told the students that he isn’t one to wring his hands over what happened before now. He says he asks himself “How do we go forward?” And he urged the students to think about this question: “How do we work together to make the city a better place than it is?”

The metro region needs to stop talking about “Us” and “Them” and look at the region as a whole, because our past, our future, even our identities are inextricably tied.

When he asked for questions, students asked a wide range, displaying a wide range of knowledge of the city and regional issues. One boy, son of Detroit business owners, asked what incentives the city is giving to business owners, another wanted to know how the city deals with stray animals.

There were many questions about the emergency financial manager, many of them nuts-and-bolts type because they didn’t understand what it is, what it means or why anyone would oppose it, as Spivey does.

Spivey said he believes the EFM negates the will of the electorate, but he adds that now that it’s a fact, the city council has to work with him.

It was a good introduction to the city from an insider and serves as a link to the ninth-graders and their R&D project, which will be to research a Detroit-based nonprofit and look for ways to help.

(Tuesday, April 16), in the third grade, T.J. Rogers, program assistant for Freedom House, spoke to the third graders about what the organization does. The third-graders have been studying world religions and discussed how sometimes people of certain religions are oppressed and must flee their native countries to seek asylum elsewhere.

Freedom House, which has been in southwest Detroit since 1983, is a refugee shelter that tends to the physical, medical, emotional and legal needs of asylum-seekers during the often lengthy process of being granted asylum.

Currently more than 41 people ages 2 months to middle age from around the world live in the house. Some came alone, some came with families — and live in the shelter during the appeal for asylum. The organization is the only one of its kind in the United States and is funded in part by the United Nations and donations. It is staffed by a few attorneys, people like Rogers and hundreds of volunteers.

Students have been collecting nonperishable food and other toiletries for the organization for weeks.

A refugee from Rwanda came with T.J. She cannot be identified because of her situation, but she shared a message of hope with the students. We may all look different on the outside, she said. But inside, we are all human beings and we are all the same.

Again, the student question-and-answer session was telling. Students asked thoughtful questions and wanted to know about the nitty-gritty of life at Freedom House. A lot of thought went into the questions and the students seemed to learn quite a bit.

It’s connections like these — big and small — that keep Liggett a part of the city where it was born. That’s important because the history of Detroit is made of dozens of people who came through Liggett and its predecessor schools. And the future of the region will likely be made by the students here now.

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