Ypsilanti has long been regarded as living in the shadow of its frequently exalted neighbor, Ann Arbor. This made Thursday night’s Ypsi Lives, held in McKenny Hall’s lounge, extremely refreshing.
The event was tailor-made by Ypsilantians for Ypsilantians.
Ypsi Lives featured eight speakers, all of whom inspired the crowd with their unique perspectives on Ypsilanti. Some stories were whimsical, weaving humorous tales of the city’s lack of regard for state paperwork. Other stories were those of hardships, futures stolen by youthful crime. Be it through laughter or sadness, not many audience members were able to escape shedding a tear that night.
Ypsi Lives opened with some thought-provoking local trivia, with questions such as, “Why does the Sidetrack have such an atypical shape?” Ypsilanti residents mentally – and somewhat physically – grappled with each other, clambering to answer the queries and win a TRUEMU T-shirt.
After settling down, the crowd fell silent in preparation for their first speaker, Derrick Jackson.
Jackson’s story was more of a tragedy, and a powerful one at that. It struck a chord with everyone, because it was something everyone could relate to: youthful mischief. Innocent curiosity and exuberance can snowball into a felony with blinding speed.
When Jackson first moved to Ypsilanti, he decided to unofficially mentor a local teen. The teen was clearly intelligent, and Jackson hoped he might have a promising future. Unfortunately, four days after the young man turned 17, (at which point you can be tried and convicted as an adult) he ran into trouble with some friends. Jackson knew the kid didn’t mean any harm, but that meant nothing in the eyes of the judicial system. He is now serving a sentence in prison.
But, in Jackson’s words, “Good can come out of the bad.” The young man later made a phone call to Jackson, simply to say, “Derrick, I’m fine.” Hopefully, when the kid gets out, he can start fresh and build a new life.
With his parting words, Jackson implored students to think about what they are doing before they make a decision which could alter their lives for the worse.
Luckily, after the emotional rollercoaster of Jackson’s story, the crowd was gifted with some comic relief. Humor came in the forms of Ann Arbor-bashing, brutally self-aware jokes about Ypsilanti’s lack of wealthy people and an anecdote about a music festival which was held in defiance of federal and state laws. The speakers had no delusions when it came to Ypsilanti. They knew what it was, and they loved it.
Christa Hughbanks half-joked, “If I told you all the stories of my life, you would not want to come to Ypsi.” The audience loved that one. Nevertheless, Hughbanks expressed how she loved this town and Eastern Michigan University. She has even decided to raise her daughter here.
D’Real Graham, another speaker, professed a feeling many EMU students may be familiar with: the feeling of unworthiness which comes from being at EMU instead of the University of Michigan.
Graham initially felt disheartened when he came to EMU, but he now loves his school, his community and takes pride in Ypsilanti. Students were literally nodding in affirmation when Graham
After all the speakers had presented, the audience took to the microphone to express their gratitude for the stories. One girl claimed it made her proud to be an EMU student.
Ypsi Lives’ program coordinator, Haley Moraniec, said she had wanted to, “shed a positive light on Ypsi.” Maybe Ypsi residents need to give themselves a break, look around and realize how amazing this town really is.
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