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OFF THE RECORD Special Issue: Detroit’s Evolution

December 2012 $5.99

Editor’s Note It has been called The Motor City, The D and Motown. Detroit has a long history of pride and struggle that is palpable from the moment you arrive. A quick drive through the city is a visual reminder of its past. The Renaissance Center, a substantial piece of the Detroit skyline, was a symbol for progress and growth in the 70s, a dream that Henry Ford II believed would help continue Detroit’s ticket to prosperity. These buildings are now a reminder of where the city has been and it is impossible to forget. Detroiters can never forget the rise and fall of the automobile industry, or the riots that swelled from a early morning booze raid in 1967 that quickly escalated to center around race. Burned and empty houses are a reminder of this past. Once with a population of 1.85 million in 1950, it is now home to about 700,000 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It is within this population of those that have stayed that are rebuilding the city day-by-day and changing the definition of the American Dream. In this issue, we will meet these people and examine their stories. Off the Record begins where mainstream media ends, offering reliable, in-depth visual reporting that covers overlooked issues and stories in communities across the country. Erica Yoon

Editorial Board

Terry Eiler Michael Bou-Nacklie Abigail Fisher Claire Harbage Tae Hoon Kim

Kate Munsch Will Parson Heather Rousseau Megan Westervelt

The sun sets over the city of Detroit on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Special Thanks Regina Boone Halima Cassells Faculty and students of VisCom Eric Seals

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Table of Contents Night Visions

Murals in Detroit


The Common Good

Is Urban Farming the Solution? D-Town’s Next Generation


The Last Frame

A Final Look at Detroit


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Night Visions The Chimera by Detroit graffiti artist Kobie Solomon is an 8,750 square foot spray-painted mural on the westward wall of building #2 at the Russell Industrial Complex. The mural can be seen by motorists going in both directions on Interstate 75. It is the largest spray-can art mural in the state of

Photos and text by Erica Yoon

Michigan. The mural pays tribute to the sports of Detroit — The Detroit Lions, The Detroit Pistons, The Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Tigers as well as elements that contribute to its artistic community and industrial past. Begun in 2009, Solomon says it is yet to be finished due to funding.

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Night Visions

Inspired by longtime Detroit social activist Grace Lee Boggs, the quote reads, “Today we need to combine learning with work, political struggle, community service and even play.” The mural was painted facing an urban garden by Katie Yamasaki in 2011.

Driving through Detroit as a stranger one can find themselves reflecting on the vast scale of the city and the number of murals that cover its walls. From the Eastside to the Southwest side of Detroit, these illustrations serve as a quiet reminder of the city’s culturally diverse history. For Kobie Solomon, 35, The 5 | off the record

Chimera is an illustration of the city in “its location, the people, the industry, its power, its pain, its strengths and weaknesses and the future as well as its past,” Solomon said in an interview with Kickstarter, an online fundraising platform. Chimera is a Greek mythical creature made up of parts from different animals and is formed in

Solomon’s mural by Detroit sports team mascots as well as elements that contribute to Detroit’s artistic community and industrial past. The Eastern Market is Detroit’s historical farmers market that has existed since 1891. Known as ‘super graphics’ in years past, Alexander Pollock designed and painted several of the ubiquitous murals that re-

Above: Graffiti art by Sintex, Gasm and MOST on Fisher East Street. Below: A portion of the Eastern Farmers Market mural designed by Alexander Pollock in the 1970s.

energized the dwindling force of the farmers market in the 70’s. Murals became a symbol of intentional rejuvenation in cities like Detroit. Today, murals continue to represent a social statement, much like Katie Yamasaki’s mural inspired by local longtime Detroit social activist Grace Lee Boggs. Just this past summer, The Detroit

Beautification Project ‘brought 25 internationally renowned street artists to Detroit and Hamtramck to create expansive public arts projects,’ according to Curbed Detroit. The project was started by graffiti artist REVOK. The evolution of mural painting continues today. Some art has created tension, striking

up conversations about building ownership and marketability. Our photographer decided to document these murals at night, hoping that viewers could experience the synergy and magic. These murals capture Detroit’s complicated history and create a rich life of their own.

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The Common Good Urban Gardening out of Necessity Te x t a n d P h o t o s b y E r i c a Yo o n

Susan Sunshine, left, an Occupy Detroit activist also known as The Earth Poet, talks to local resident Jerry Peterson while he picks tomatoes out of the garden as other community members forage in the background during a work day open to the community at the farm.

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The Common Good

“Urban farming in Detroit has really been born again out of necessity.� - Kate Devlin

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Left: Destiny Marshall, picks sunflower seeds at D-Town Farm during a tour of the seven acre locale. Far left: Kate Devlin hugs community member Denise Johnson, who owns three hens at the urban farm.

Corktown Revival


t is an unusually warm day for Detroit in the middle of October. Kate Devlin searches through plants in her garden at Spirit of Hope church in North Corktown. She plucks out a handful of cherry tomatoes from the tangled greens and works diligently to save the last of this year’s harvest. Three to four community members are also hunched over working quietly. North Corktown is the oldest neighborhood in Detroit, once settled by Irish immigrants who arrived in the United States in search of a better life. The church was known as a place of refuge for many seeking spiritual sustenance and continues to fulfill this role today. The garden started when Pastor Matthew Bode, head preacher at Spirit of Hope, blessed the land with the congregation on August 5, 2007. The church allowed Kate to begin what she envisioned in the empty lots next to the church. This dream for Kate began a long time ago. Kate’s relationship with Detroit

started when she arrived in 1986, far before the urban gardening movement was ever called a ‘movement.’ “When you live in Detroit and you don’t have a car and you don’t have a whole lot of money, you don’t have a whole lot of choices for food…so I started a garden,” she said. Her start was by no means easy. Kate found herself homeless with her 5-year-old daughter back in the Southwest side of Detroit after dealing with some personal problems. “When you have an experience like that it’s kind of really humbling and you know—it was eye opening to me even back then that you can slip through the cracks,” she said. One day, Kate decided to kneel down and look at the world through her daughter’s eyes. “I looked around and I said, you know what, this is a pretty bleak looking place,” she said. So Kate began planting flowers in random spaces. Experiencing homelessness and wanting to change the bleakness of the city, Kate decided to approach Pastor

Bode after living in a house next to the church. She imagined a big garden in the empty lots working in tandem together. Today, while Kate works in her garden outside, the church hosts a soup kitchen for community members— most of whom are homeless—in the church basement at the same time on Saturdays. While ideal, the reality of the set-up is harder to coordinate. To her disappointment, the produce is rarely ever incorporated into the soup kitchen and church groups often don’t realize that there is a farm in the church’s backyard. Despite stating that her garden is somewhat a failure, it still grows and yields food every season and people from the community still appear to help in the garden. Twenty-five percent of the food ideally goes to the food pantry at the church, which helps supplement food that is distributed for 160 families. Another twenty-five percent goes to the people who actually volunteer on the farm and the rest is sold at a farm stand on Thursdays at the church. Community Supported

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The Common Good

Agriculture (CSA) is a program where a farmer can sell a share of what they produce in a season and the community buys in before the start of the season. This type of transaction is taking place at Spirit of Hope. “If I can make it better in some way then that’s what I feel drawn to do,” Kate said about her role in the community. Kate is one of many residents of Detroit who make the city what it is today. In a city where progress is continually scrutinized and blighted houses more often than not steal the spotlight of its people, Kate is among those who work behind the scenes on a daily basis, attempting to make her community a better place to live.

Farming Mothers


orning comes early for Raeven Locke, 18, on a school day. “I wake up at 5:40 or 6a.m. I try to leave by 6:30 though,” she says. Getting out the door on time in the morning as a high school student is one thing. Leaving on time with a baby is another. Catherine Ferguson Academy has been open since 1986 and is designed for young mothers and expecting mothers trying to finish high school in Detroit. The school is known for its successful graduation rate and for placing students into community college by the time they are finished. Currently, there are 250 students enrolled in the school. It is here many receive an opportunity to learn how to raise food from soil for the first time. To outsiders, this school serves as a litmus test or solution for the dismal graduation rates in Detroit. It is a Wednesday in the beginning of October and time to harvest some of the last vegetables in the garden for their farmers market held during lunchtime. Dana Applebaum, the school’s farm educator, waits in the corridor as young

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girls appear one-bye-one to head outside. Farming Mothers is a club that meets Monday and Wednesday mornings behind the school. They work in a two-and-ahalf acre lot that houses a working farm complete with goats, chickens, sometimes ducks, rabbits and a horse. Today, the students harvest kale, chard greens, garlic, bell peppers, zucchini and squash. “It’s like really new to me, and I haven’t really tried fresh, fresh food, like grown off the farm...I can go home and cook something healthy. I mean, it might not turn out like it turned out in school but I know if I go home and keep trying, I will accomplish that goal...” Shantanique Dixson, 18, said. Dixson is creating a cookbook with fellow classmate Tiychina WilbournLittle for the school now. Dixson was born and raised in Detroit. At the time of the interview, her due date was November 5 and she planned to name her baby boy Xavier. Dixson hopes to attend a community college and study nursing. Farm educator Dana Applebaum, 26, is in her fifth year teaching at CFA. Slender and petite in stature, Applebaum can easily be mistaken for one of the students. However, age is probably the only similarity between them. Growing up in the suburbs, Applebaum said her experience with the city was always peripheral until high school when students from Detroit were bussed to her school. “That was sort of the beginning of my awareness of just the racial, class dynamic between the city and the suburbs,” she said. Applebaum now lives in Detroit. “...I don’t think that urban agriculture itself is the solution,” Applebaum continued. “The city seems to be focusing its energy on attracting people with resources rather than building a system where...everyone has access to basic things they need...” she added. This hits all too close to home. News spreads that five teachers were laid off at the school.

Dana Applebaum, center, farm educator at CFA, pauses as Kanisha Miller touches Shantanique Dixson’s belly during a farmers market at the school.

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The Common Good: Farming Mothers

Ajhane Thomas, 18, walks back to the school barn as Jon Miller of Detroit carefully leads his draft horses, Tess and Tara, around the urban farm for the first time at Catherine Ferguson Academy. Miller and his horses plowed through garlic plots on harvest day at the school. Miller hopes that the horses can stable closer to the city to do farm chores and provide educational outings in the city on a regular basis.


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Photos and Text by Erica Yoon

Left: Kadiri Sennefer, a farm manager at D-Town Farms, also raps about food with Bryce AndersonSmall (this page), a former record executive who now devotes his time to youth media literacy. off the record | 16

The Next Generation

Bryce Anderson-Small mentors artist King Kold during a rehearsal.

Kadiri Sennefer waters plants in a hoop house at D-Town Farms.

For the Youth


t is Saturday night at the Detroit Contemporary and an opera project featuring mezzo-soprano Deanna Relyea is finishing up in the performance hall. Tonight is a celebration of urban gardening and farming through art and performance, something not out of the ordinary for artists in downtown Detroit. Closing out the show is Lucas DiGia, also known as Homegrown, as well as rap artist S.I.R.I.U.S also known as Kadiri Sennefer who performs with Bryce Anderson-Small. The tempo of the evening suddenly shifts. “WE SAY NO! TO BOOTLEG FOOD, ninety-nine cent menu, hundred dollar shoes!” Sennefer and Anderson-Small take the stage and feed off of each other’s energy. The music is loud, louder than it probably should be but people are smiling at the lyrics and bobbing their heads. In the front, Paul Weertz, a retired teacher from Catherine Ferguson Academy who helped create an urban farm at the school, nods in enjoyment and is clearly entertained by the rap. It is a small venue but the crowd fills the space. Both Sennefer and Smalls smile excitedly on stage, taking turns and visibly gleaming to be the center of attention. The stage is where Sennefer and Anderson-Small intersect, both young Detroit natives excited about the work that they do. Sennefer is farm manager at D-Town Farms, a seven-acre farm located in Detroit’s west side that is a part of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. Anderson-Small is a former music executive for an independent record label now involved in spearheading a youth media literacy program promoting sustainable lifestyles through his own non-profit organization called the Heru Project. Both met at a gardening program called Urban Roots through the Greening of Detroit’s Garden Resource program in 2010. “One of the reasons why we do what we do is to make this

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attractive for youth so that they’ll be interested because someone has to continue on this work, someone has to carry this legacy,” said Sennefer. Bryce Anderson-Small is standing in the large basement of the Unitarian Universalist Church off Cass Avenue Tuesday evening. He is waiting for Jim Bates, an electrical engineer who uses sustainable energy practices, to arrive and start examining the space. The basement includes a large stage and two open levels. EMEAC, Eastern Michigan Environmental Action Council of which Bryce is involved with, recently acquired the space to convert into a youth community common space. They intend to use it as a multimedia facility, which will include a mobile recording studio theatre, a venue for film screenings, a space for skill development, videography, video editing and audio engineering, among other uses. He is hoping the space will be ready for their sixth annual EMEAC green screen, a youth and community environmental justice film festival. From 2003 to 2008, Anderson-Small worked in an executive capacity for an independent record label out of Detroit. Towards the latter part of his career, he began to realize it was not the right fit anymore. Creative and spiritual compromises were taking place, he said. It is then that he wanted to dedicate his career to the service of youth instead of what he called mainstream ‘youth consumer consumption.’ Meanwhile on the other side of town, Kadiri takes another wheelbarrow load of soil into one of the four hoop houses at D-Town Farms. It is just another day at the farm where he works. He later goes to the large compost pile to monitor the progress. The last of the squash was recently harvested and Sennefer talks about the future projects in place. “We have an ongoing solar panel project going on…we’re

Kadiri Sennefer, also known as S.I.R.I.U.S., and Bryce Anderson-Small perform together at The Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit (CAID).

going to be erecting a drip irrigation system on the farm which will be a great benefit to watering our plants,” he said. Sennefer has worked on the farm for the last year and a half now but has volunteered since the inception of D-Town Farms six years ago. “This is beautiful being out here. I admit it’s a wonderful job to have. It’s challenging. It’s a lot of work but you know, I’ve worked at factories, at fast food restaurants and this is the most meaningful work that I’ve done,” he said. Initially, the network of people at D-Town helped Sennefer land a job at Earthworks, another urban farm, but he eventually returned to D-Town as one of three farm managers. “Being connected to the land and having this family structure of people that really care…there’s like a collective responsibility to hold each other up...and become the best that you can be,” he said. “It’s given my life purpose. Like, I didn’t feel like my life had purpose prior to. It’s a wonderful cause to work for. I could see

the benefits within my personal life, having access to healthier foods…I try to share that with my friends and family. People respect what I’m doing. What we’re doing. It’s dynamic,” he said. Sennefer is grateful for founder Malik Yakini, crediting him for providing opportunities and being an example of selfdetermination in the city. Sennefer rides passenger in a car with Jackie Hunt on Monday evening, a woman he considers family. Hunt introduced him to gardening at D-Town Farms. They snake through the city together after weighing bags of Poblano peppers at the DBCFSN office in hopes to sell to local city restaurants. Some of the stops include Motor City Brewing Works, Traffic Jam & Snug and Goodwells Natural Foods Market. With a measure of success, Sennefer sells several bags of the peppers. For Sennefer, meeting Anderson-Smalls was more like a

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The Next Generation: For the Youth

A bridal party walks across 14th Street between Dalzelle Street and Michigan Avenue after a photoshoot inside the burned house on the left.

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“We don’t have it easy. Yet we continue to push forward…in the midst of what everything that they’re saying about Detroit, there’s prosperity and abundance and a great deal of it flowing through Detroit.” - Kadiri Sennefer

sign of fate rather than a mere coincidence. Sennefer first met Anderson-Smalls’ sister, Courtney, after hearing her demo music mix tape at the local medical shop down from the neighborhood bookstore. Sennefer had been in the process of recording a mix tape himself and eventually met Anderson-Smalls at that fateful Urban Roots meeting. Anderson-Smalls would later begin to help Sennefer record music. Today, they perform together and continue to encourage each other in the work that they do. “I’m very grateful to have met the good brother and to work alongside with him…I believe we change each other’s lives. You know, me and Bryce are born in the inner city with so many challenges, especially as being so called ‘black AfricanAmerican’ and young growing up with the stigmas that come with that, the prejudice. And so definitely I believe that we are examples for youth, for having a dream, a vision and moving forward,” Sennefer said. “The D, Detroit, I think is synonymous with determination because the people here are determined. We don’t have it easy. Yet we continue to push forward…in the midst of what everything that they’re saying about Detroit, there’s prosperity and abundance and a great deal of it flowing through Detroit. You can see it in the art, you can see it in the agriculture, you can see it in the people thriving. It’s a dynamic and wonderful time in Detroit at this moment. At the same time there are people hurting. But I think that these conditions are what makes it so outstanding,” Sennefer said.

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The Next Generation

Marshall Stephens, 27, sits in the stairwell inside of a house on West Golden Gate Street where he moved in six months ago.

Alternative Means


t is raining again and Marshall Stephens, 27, begins to dig into a meal out of a metal pot he just cooked while sitting infront of a house on West Golden Gate Street. He takes spoonfuls and shares it with his community neighbors walking up to the table, who are not phased by the brisk weather. Stephens is one of 22 people who belong to this 11-house community called Golden Gate, situated east of Woodward Avenue and south of 7 Mile Road in the Highland Park community. The neighborhood began last November and functions as a cohesive group, promoting self-sustainability, urban agriculture and an alternative way of life. All of the residents are essentially squatting in unoccupied homes. Stephens has lived without electricity for six months now. “My family...they’re like, why are you living here and squatting in a house? And my answer is pretty much because it just feels right living here. It just feels good. I can sit down and like have a thought. That’s it. There’s a point where you have to

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put the stop button on logic and reason and just kind of go with like the feel of stuff and it’s been an adventure...Every day is like an adventure here,” he said. Stephens found Golden Gate shortly after returning to the United States from the Peace Corps in Thailand. He wanted to find a communal living space where people supported each other. An old friend of Stephens had mentioned The Innate Healing Center, a vegetarian cafe nearby and recommended that he go there someday. He happened to meet two people at the cafe, Dr. Bob Pizzimenti and Mars Psymons, who eventually introduced him to Golden Gate. Stephens started spending time at Golden Gate, enjoying the flurry of activity last summer. “There was a lot going on around here, mostly around Bob’s house, getting this garden fixed up. We helped him build like a chicken coop and do random cleaning. We cleaned up a bunch of alleyways back there. Last summer I was really tempted to move in,” he said.

Mars Psymons, center, cuts and collects wood found on a dead-end street with fellow Golden Gate residents so they can use it for fire.

After saving up some money by working at a grocery store and living at home with his parents, Marshall, who was living in a nearby suburb, finally moved to Detroit. “It’s really elemental. There’s a challenge living here. I admit some days, I’m like, ‘Oh my god. It’s difficult.’ But you’re really in touch with the neighbors. There’s this energy that connects the houses, this community together—I enjoy the quietness. And I don’t miss electricity,” he said. “I sleep really well here too, it’s kind of like urban camping,” he added. It is still raining but it does not deter Marshall and several of his neighbors, including Tyler Brazley, Shane Clark and Mars Psymons from hopping in their pick-up truck to search for wood so they can use it to burn for fire. The four drive around the neighborhood and scour any dead tree limbs that they can cut with a chainsaw. Some are found near a dead end street, others are found on overgrown lots in front of abandoned homes. By the time they return, the bed of

the pick-up truck is brimming with freshly cut logs. With a living space that lacks law enforcement or clear structure, sometimes lawlessness rears its ugly head. There have been frequent instances of vagrants and drug addicts passing through the community as well as world travelers who appear especially during the summer months, including a bus full of circus performers that came to stay for several days. “One of our old roommates got attacked in the middle of the night. There was like this huge brawl and my roommate was hit in the face with a hammer a bunch and—it was horrible. It was ridiculous—it was dark, we had no light, it was so scary,” he said. “My family definitely have their reserves about me living here and to be honest, I do too. But it’s fun though,” he said. The violence has shaken up neighbors living near Golden Gate, outsiders who are the voyeurs of a new housing experiment. Marshall says there is a fragile balance of tolerance levels but generally on the whole, others are accepting and friendly. off the record | 22

The Next Generation

Above: Occupy Detroit activists stand outside of 1515 Broadway Cafe on the one-year anniversary of the movement as a People Mover passes through its route. Right: A woman continues to sing at Grand Circus Park long after the crowds have gone home.

“...We must each become a part of the solution because we are each a part of the problem.” - Grace Lee Boggs

Occupy Detroit


he crowd is thinning out and Marsha Spencer of Wixom, MI, still sits on the edge of the fountain at Grand Circus Park. It is the one-year anniversary of Occupy Detroit and the event is getting ready to move locations to 1515 Broadway, a coffee house a couple blocks down. Spencer has small patches cut out of beige cloth pinned on to her jacket. “Occupy - Art,” “Occupy - Free Speech,” “Occupy Green,” and “Occupy - Wal-mart.” She seems to be taking in the the sounds and speech still lingering around her. “I have five grandchildren. I want to see them to be able to succeed in this country and I fear greatly that the American 23 | off the record

Dream is dead. It used to be if you did what you were supposed to you got a good education, you worked hard, you could make it in this country and that’s not true anymore,” she said. After living in New York and participating in Occupy Wall Street for 72 days in a row, Spencer recently moved back to her native home of Michigan to be closer to family. “I feel like something needs to change in this country and there’s a lot of people getting together talking about how we can affect that change and I think it’s really important,” she said. Erik Shelly, a member of the Occupy Detroit Media Team, said that about 200 people attended the event at Grand Circus

Park. One of the projects that Occupy Detroit took on was to help support restoration housing projects in the city of Detroit, including the Golden Gate Community. Head gardener Kate Devlin, the Spirit of Hope church and farm, farm educator Dana Applebaum, the students at Catherine Ferguson Academy, musicians and mentors Kadiri Sennefer and Bryce Anderson-Small, resident Marshall Stephens, the Golden Gate Community and Occupy Detroit are one of many who represent Detroit. The spirit and resiliency embodied by these people are what drives the engine of this city today. Is Detroit there yet? Will they make it?

Grace Lee Boggs, a long time Detroit social activist says it best in her latest book, The Next American Revolution: “At this point in the continuing evolution of our country and of the human race, we urgently need to stop thinking of ourselves as victims and to recognize that we must each become a part of the solution because we are each a part of the problem.� To that end, Detroit residents have already begun.

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the last frame

In a final look at Detroit, photographer Erica Yoon shares Instagram photos taken with her cell phone while in the field. The inconspicuous tool served as another way to creatively document the city.

Vicky, a homeless woman who lives across from the Michigan Central Train Depot.

A house for sale in Detroit.

Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Joe Simonson with the Detroit Party Marching Band outside of a bar downtown.

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Garry and Jerry sing songs for patrons at the Spirit of Hope soup kitchen.

A painting in Principal Aseneth Andrews’ room at Catherine Ferguson Academy.

Christina Xiong, 16, at the 30th Hmong New Year Festival in Fraser, MI.

The Michigan Central Train Depot.

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Off the Record  

Off the Record begins where mainstream media ends, offering reliable, in-depth visual reporting that covers overlooked issues and stories in...