Liaya Blueford is a fourth-year undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. She will graduate with a BS in Biology, Health, and Society and a minor in Gender and Health. She decided to take on this project in order to learn more about the ramifications of intersectionality and to become more interculturally competent.
My name is Liaya Blueford, and I am an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan. I am majoring in Biology, Health, and Society and minoring in Gender and Health. During the summer of 2022, GISC Undergraduate Student Fellowship Funding allowed me to continue my work on DREAM of Detroit’s Detroit Muslim Storytelling Project. I began my internship with Dream of Detroit at the beginning of the 2021-2022 academic year as a part of the University of Michigan’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. After learning more about the efforts of the organization, and witnessing the profound effect that it was having on members of the target community, I was eager to extend my participation into the summer months.
Our project, which was initiated in 2020 out of a collaboration between Dream of Detroit’s executive director Mark Crain and anthropologist Dr. Alisa Perkins, Associate Professor of Comparative Religion at Western Michigan University, aims to promote knowledge about Dream of Detroit’s community-building work along with larger histories of African-American Muslims in the city through the development of a multimedia website, publicly accessible archive, and documentary film.
The interviews focus on Black Muslim community leaders in Detroit historically and today and their partners. The project pays special attention to those involved in both Dream of Detroit and The Muslim Center, a 35-year-old, primarily African American mosque and community center, from which the Huda Clinic and Garden came about, located in Dream of Detroit’s target neighborhood.
Exploring Detroit’s history will allow one to further understand the importance of Dream of Detroit’s work and why the organization came to be. In the 1950s, Detroit was the automobile capital of the world, which gathered the attention of Black Americans from the South looking for work. However, racial tension between the Black and white populations was rampant. When the white population began to depart for the neighboring suburbs, they left behind poverty that disproportionately disadvantaged the same Black populations who originally built up the city. In addition, despite the fact that Detroit is “one of the most historically important cities for African American Muslims," it remains “underrepresented by scholars studying Muslims in America'' (Perkins, 2021). It is widely unknown that one of the earliest Black Muslim communities in the Nation of Islam originated in Detroit, and that the city houses a multitude of historical African American Muslim institutions that still stand today.
The Detroit Muslim Storytelling Project is a product of Dream of Detroit. This Muslim-led organization aims to revitalize and empower a predominantly Black, low-income neighborhood on the west side of Detroit through land and housing development, economic development, and organizing carried out by those in the community. It is a social justice effort that fights against systemic issues that affect this underrepresented population through the encouragement of civic engagement.
Both Dream of Detroit and the Detroit Muslim Storytelling Project are proponents of community-based participatory research, an approach in which “the people who are most affected by an issue engage in collaborative knowledge production at every stage of the research process” (Dream Storytelling Interviews, 2022). It prioritizes the community as the expert, as “communities possess deep knowledge of their own lived experience, community assets, culture(s), histories, aspirations and potential” (Wang, 2022). One of the ways in which the Detroit Muslim Storytelling project implements this type of research is by bringing in young African American, Muslim community-based ethnographers to carry out interviews and background research.
As a video editor, I work alongside my mentor, Dr. Alisa Perkins, to create rough cuts and clips of oral history interviews for the public archive and website. Dr. Perkins provides me with the full transcript of an interview in which she had marked with provisional cuts, known as the “Edit Decision List.” I then watch the video carefully while reviewing the Edit Decision List, providing clear instructions on exactly how the video should be edited. Dr. Perkins and I exchange drafts of the Edit Decision List until we are both satisfied with it. At that point, I use Adobe Premiere Pro to edit the video accordingly, and Dr. Perkins and I repeat the review and exchange process until we are content with the final product.
The Detroit Muslim Storytelling project is ongoing and so far has documented vibrant activism and community stewardship. The archive has recently been completed, but the documentary film and website are currently under production. Now, the archive houses fifty interviews, including the two that I edited during the school year and one that I edited in the summer of 2022. In addition, I have edited two video clips in preparation for the project’s multimedia website, bringing my total number of contributions to three.
The project’s focus is on community leadership and development through cross-religious collaboration, and that can take many different forms. For instance, Clark Dawud, a Black Muslim prison rights advocate, is currently House Manager for Project Homecoming, a place where those recently liberated from prison can stay as they manage their way through the transitional period. He also plays a pivotal role in Dream of Detroit’s revitalization projects, as well as volunteers his time at the Muslim Center, which continues to provide resources for those in need as well as hosts community-engaging events within Dream of Detroit’s neighborhood. Na'im Muslim Sabir, a Black Muslim advocate and entrepreneur, is president of C.R.I.T.E.R.I.O.N. Urban Farms, a non-profit organization that aims to increase Detroit residents’ access to fresh and affordable produce.
All those involved in Dream of Detroit and the Detroit Muslim Storytelling Project continue to hold hope for Detroit’s continued revitalization. We aspire that Detroit’s future will involve its development into a worthy competitor for other major American cities just as Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City. Understanding the history of these populations and their contributions to the city are important ways to combat stereotypes and discrimination against them as both religious and racial minorities in the United States. We hope that documenting the importance of these and other Black Muslim institutions historically and today will raise awareness about the work of Dream of Detroit and related Black Muslim-led institutions, increasing the chances of others to better understand and support their efforts.
Wondering how this can be you? All students currently enrolled at the University of Michigan in an undergraduate or graduate/professional degree program (master's or doctoral level) are eligible to apply for the GISC’s Fellowship Funding.
The GISC Fellowship Funding may be used for the following:
- Language training - to offset costs of program fees for language learning.
- Research support - to offset costs for an original project supporting Senior, Master’s, or Doctoral thesis completion.
- Travel expenses (graduate students only) - associated with conducting original research or language training