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Unfiltered: Joshua McKamie on Living Outside the "Wayne State Bubble"

The best part of writing on this blog is stumbling across really cool people. People like Joshua McKamie, a 21-year-old senior at Wayne State University who could school me any time about what it means to live in Detroit.

McKamie grew up in Canton, a suburb of Detroit. He will graduate this semester with a degree in Nutrition. Afterward, he will spend six months in Ghana, distributing water purification systems and teaching health and sanitation in local schools and orphanages with seven other college students. When he returns, he will attend medical school at either Wayne State or Michigan State's Detroit campus.

Here's what McKamie has to say about how he got off campus, got into Detroit and why he's smitten with this absurd yet endearing city.

By the way, you can support his water project in Ghana. Check out his Kickstarter site to watch a video about what he's trying to do there. You've got ONE more day to add your money to mine and donate.


By Joshua McKamie

When I was a high school senior, I was convinced Grand Valley University was the school for me. After touring most of Michigan's universities, it was clearly my best option. It had nice dorm rooms, delicious cafeteria food, was too far away for any surprise visits from my parents yet still close enough for them to still occasionally take me out to dinner.

I was all set to make the move to the west coast when I got the letter that ruined my plans. Wayne State offered me a scholarship I couldn't refuse.

Looking back four years later as a graduating senior, choosing Wayne State was the best decision I could have made. Living and going to school in Detroit introduced me to a beautiful city, its many problems and shaped the direction of my life and future career.

Many of my classes have taken part in this shaping, especially Prof. Kami Pothukuchi's urban planning class “Cities and Food” about sustainable food systems and Detroit. However, it's the time I've spent outside the classroom that has most impacted me.

Although I lived in the dorms freshman year and in an apartment close to campus the next, my first real “Detroit” experiences didn't come until the spring break of my junior year. Before then, it was easy to stay inside the “Wayne State Bubble,” never venturing too far away from main campus or Campus Martius downtown.

This spring break, I decided to try something different: Alternative Spring Break Detroit. In this amazing week-long program, run by Wayne State's Dean of Students Office, we spent the mornings learning about different Detroit issues from local experts. We discussed homelessness and poverty at Mariner's Inn (a local 30-90 day residential substance abuse program), saw the water system in action at Detroit's Water Works Park and learned about white flight and the roots of Detroit's population decline from professors on campus.

In the afternoons, we broke off into themed work groups to volunteer with local non-profits in the city. In my group, “Homelessness and Housing,” we spent our time boarding up burned-out houses, cleaning up neglected lots and helping Habitat for Humanity complete a home build.

In the evenings, we ate dinner at local restaurants and headed back to St. John's Episcopal Church, next to Comerica Park, where we discussed the day, played Jinga and slept. One of my favorite parts of the week was watching friendships grow across both racial and religious lines. Although Wayne State is an extremely diverse school, it's not often you see these kind barriers so easily broken.

After such a fulfilling experience in Detroit over spring break, I started looking for ways to stay in the city during the summer. I found my answer in a local Methodist non-profit called the Young Leaders Initiative. I applied and was accepted into their intentional living and internship-placement summer program for college students.

Five other interns and I lived in house together in the city near the University of Detroit Mercy. We spent our days working at our individual internships and our evenings sharing meals and exploring the city together.

My internship placement was with the Joy-Southfield Free Clinic. As an intern at Joy-Southfield, I engaged in basic patient care, like taking vitals and patient histories. I also worked scheduling appointments, assisting the pharmacist and reviewing the charts of the clinic's hypertensive patients.

This hands-on experience gave me an up close view of the health crisis afflicting the 47-plus million uninsured across the country. It placed faces on the statistics and showed me the kind of medicine I hope to one day practice.

This school year, I've continued as an intern for Young Leaders Initiative. After completing the summer internship program, my boss gave me the freedom to create a program for college students at Wayne State. Together, we decided to create a student group that aims to introduce students early to life in Detroit outside the “Wayne State Bubble.” We've named it “Catalyst.”

At the beginning of the Fall 2009 semester, we gathered a group of 10 students, mostly freshmen, to meet together weekly and learn about a different Detroit issue each week. Inviting guests from local churches and non-profits whenever possible, we discussed homelessness, poverty, healthcare access, healthy food access and more. We also read and discussed “The Irresistible Revolution: by Shane Claiborne, a book calling Christians to live alongside and serve the poor.

At the beginning of this Winter semester, each Catalyst member was given a $100 bill to complete their own project serving the city. Although we would like each student to pick one of the issues we studied in the first semester, they're free to choose whatever issue is meaningful to them.

Currently, Catalyst members are planning and starting their projects. Some of their projects include raising money for the Joy-Southfield Free Clinic and running “Food Dessert Tours” for suburbanites to raise awareness about Detroit's healthy food access problems. It's been incredible watching many of the Catalyst members rally around issues they did not even know existed months ago.

Four years ago, coming to Wayne State was a disappointment. Detroit was not a place I ever saw myself living. Today, it's the only place I want to be. Over the last four years, I've been blessed with opportunities, at school and around the city, which have shaped me into the person I've become: someone with a passion for Detroit, hopeful for its rebirth. While I will be spending the next six months living in Ghana, I know my time in this city is far from over.

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  • 1

    Hey, Josh. Good luck on your project in Ghana and thanks again for your great support of Joy-Southfield. You'll be happy to know that Joy-Southfield is also bringing more healthy food into our service area through a farmers market, youth-led community gardening and the SEED Wayne FRESH Detroit Healthy Corner Stores project with Kami. We can't expect people to make healthy choices if healthy options aren't available. Stay in touch. Dave

  • 2

    I'd LOVE to get an update on Josh's trip to Ghana and how the process of distributing water purification systems and teaching health/sanitation went in the schools and orphanages. This is a great Detroit story.

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