We Are Not Ghosts

Reviewed by: Ellen Jakubowski
Categories: Activists - Artists

The one-two punch of the auto industry’s collapse and the foreclosure crisis has driven thousands of people out of Detroit, Michigan, over the past decade, leaving boarded-up houses and overgrown lots behind. Some residents have stayed, however, and they want the world to know: theirs is no ghost town. 

Peppered by renowned poet Jessica Care Moore’s spoken-word riffs, this documentary weaves together stories of Detroiters who are rebuilding a vibrant community from scratch. The stream of earnest, conversational interviews reveals a spirit of self-sufficiency, interconnectedness and pride among those leading the revitalization. Their stories demonstrate that positive change arises from reframing challenges as opportunities. 

Oftentimes, opportunity takes the form of deserted, weed-choked lots and yards. “We have these vast amounts of land that other cities simply don’t have, and so we have this great opportunity in the city of Detroit to grow massive amounts of food,” explains Malik Yakini of D-Town Farm. He and other passionate locals have created a useful case study for urban gardeners everywhere, planting more than 1300 gardens to improve diets while fostering empowerment.  

We Are Not Ghosts also profiles innovative businesses that have sprung up in neglected spaces. Avalon bakery provides a gathering place and uses local ingredients instead of cheaper alternatives, illustrating Detroiters’ dedication to supporting one another. 

Some of the film’s most moving testimonies come from educators striving to inspire a new generation. Many people who’ve struggled through years of violence and poverty advise kids to move away as soon as they can – but not these teachers. Their message is: “You are of use to this city.” They involve their students in community projects, aiming to produce graduates who are confident in their power to change the world with local action.

Communities everywhere can gain inspiration from Detroit. They don’t need to wait for an economic disaster; watching this film may well be enough. “Don’t write eulogies for Detroit,” urges Care Moore, “no uninspired folk song of gloom. Some of us are coming home to show the world how we make the planet move.”

We Are Not Ghosts, directed by Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young, United States: Bullfrog Films, 2012, 52 minutes 

This review originally appeared in Education, Issue 38.6. Subscribe now to get more reviews in your mailbox!

Reviewer Information

Ellen Jakubowski is a former A\J editorial intern with a BSc in Biology from the University of Guelph and a science communication diploma from Laurentian University. She works as an interpreter at the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory and blogs about animals in The Wild Side.

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