From Faygo pop and Better Made chips to East vs West debates, there’s something special about being from the Motor City. There are defining characteristics to being a Detroiter; from repping your high school well into your adult years to having heated debates about which Coney Island diner is best. Detroit is unique, and some residents are making sure that everyone – whether they’re from the city or not – knows it.
Raphael Wright: “My home pride has only grown with the city’s growth.”
As an entrepreneur with his hand in virtually every industry, Raphael Wright’s many businesses have a piece of Detroit in them. Wright, 32, known as “Rafa,” or @fairo_rafa
to his 10.3K Instagram followers, is an author, owner of a grocery store, publishing company, and clothing brand. Neighborhood Grocery is a crowdfunded, small-format, full-service grocery store on Detroit’s east side focusing on closing the gap of lack of healthy food access in the area. The inspiration behind this brand, and all of Wright’s personal projects, is simple.
“I want to leave the city better than I inherited it. That happens by changing what needs to change, all while preserving the history and culture of Detroit by any means,” Wright says.
Taste the Diaspora Detroit was inspired by a Thanksgiving food distribution in 2020 (where Neighborhood Grocery was a distribution site), and turned into celebrating food from the African diaspora in shoeboxes – a nod to how Black families traveled with food in the Jim Crow era. During each week in February 2021, a different meal was served: each one prepared by a Black, Detroit-based chef or Black-owned Detroit restaurant, using food from Black farmers and food producers, in Detroit, of course. Wright and the Taste the Diaspora co-founders, Ederique and Jermond, promoted the 400 meals for sale on their personal and professional channels: they sold out in two days.
“I took advantage of my visibility to show whatever parts of the world looking at me how beautiful and powerful Detroit is,” says Wright, who says he tactfully created all of his brands around Detroit.
In response to Make America Great Again (MAGA) campaigning, Wright decided to use his voice to add a twist to the signature red hat that the former president and his supporters favored. Make the Hood Great Again is a call to action to show urban communities in positive ways. It gained traction and promted Wright to create other “great again” taglines.
“What started as a few colored hats turned into a whole form of expression for me. It’s how I show the world my work,” says Wright. “‘Make The Hood Wealthy Again’ will allow me to help bring wealth education to the hood. ‘Make The Hood Healthy Again’ has been displaying the grocery store, my garden, and other initiatives around health in Urban America.”
As a lifelong Detroiter, Wright has seen the rise and fall of the city, and says that he’s happy to see it grow in real-time, as the city’s progress is personal to him.
“Personally, my home pride has only grown with the city’s growth. Professionally, I’ve been in rooms and at tables I couldn’t imagine I’d be at without the growth,” says Wright, who wants to see more from Detroit’s advancements. “And with the word growth, I want to point out that it’s arguable that the city’s growth has been one-sided or not widespread. I couldn’t agree more to those perspectives, which fuels my work.”
Andrea Stewart: “This city is on the map and it’s not going anywhere.”
With Detroit constantly on her mind and social media pages, Andrea Stewart can’t help but mention Detroit in random jokes. When asked what drives her, the 32-year-old answers “The Motor City! Get it? Bad pun, huh?” Stewart is the face behind @detroitgrammers
, an Instagram account with 15K followers, though she isn’t the originator.
“I started out as a follower to the Detroit Grammers page that @abbnorm
created. I’ve never met Norm, but we are now friends, thanks to the wild world of Instagram,” says Stewart who reminisces about her retrieval of the account in early 2018 which only had a few thousand followers at the time.
“I came across a story post that said something along the lines of, ‘looking for help to run the account’. I immediately messaged and said that I was interested.”
A team of moderators was created, but only Stewart remains, to date. The thousands of @detroitgrammers followers, whom Stewart affectionately refers to as “Grammers”, post photos of the city with the hashtag #detroitgrammers to be featured on the page. It’s transformed, however, to be more than an Instagram page.
"I watch creators encourage one another on images, hyping them up and creating conversation around the images. This truly is a community of Detroit-loving individuals that are beyond talented. I’ve also watched over the years Grammers start to know one another and recognize their work.”
Through the page’s development, Stewart has seen that all Grammers aren’t from Detroit which has given her a greater sense of pride: “Detroit translates beyond just our city and our community and that is the ultimate goal. Sharing and showing our city beyond our city limits.” This, Stewart says, shows that Detroit has grown tremendously over the years, and will continue to. “This city is on the map and it’s not going anywhere. It’s a destination vacation, stay-cation, it’s a desired corporate location, it’s a bring-your-friends-from-Chicago-to-Detroit-to-show-it-off location.”
Stewart is grateful to see both the city’s and @detroitgrammers’s growth, and credits both for making the account what it is today. “This city is packed full of creators of all kinds and there is no wrong answer of the art they depict,” Stewart says. “I am just the platform that shares to an audience.”
Kirby Gwen: “I carry my city with me everywhere I go…”
Born and raised on Detroit’s East Side, Kirby Gwen has made sure that no matter where she is, she takes a piece of home with her. Currently serving as an on-air radio personality just north of the 313, in the 810: Flint, Gwen still keeps up with her Detroit roots. With 9.4K followers on her Instagram, @kirbygwen
, the 31-year-old is sure to either relay a positive message to her followers, while taking them along her career journey or share pictures of her beloved cat, T’challa. These things are what make up Gwen’s brand, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“There’s something about being born and raised in Detroit, it sticks with you. There is a sense of pride that lives in your bones. I carry my city with me everywhere I go and it oozes into every ounce of the work that I do,” says Gwen. “I’ve always known whatever my brand was to be, there would always be a hint – if not more – of Detroit in there in some way, shape or form.”
Reminiscing on her memories in Detroit, Gwen says that Detroit is a place where passions are cultivated. “From trips down to the Eastern market watching my grandmother pick out her chickens in the 90s, to hitting up open mics and gallery openings as a student at the College for the Creative Studies during the 2000s,” she says, but it’s the resilience that the city has shown over the years that brings her the most pride.
“When you’re from Detroit you know what it’s like to witness a booming life force bled dry and abandoned. We are a people who were left for dead. We are a criticized community reclaiming our time. We are hustlers with heart. We are revolutionaries, dreamers, and doers. Detroiters make it happen when the world says you’ll never survive.”
Seeing Detroit at its highs and lows, Gwen doesn’t quite know what’s next, but staying on brand, she remains optimistic. “Whatever the future has in store for Detroit,” she says, “I sincerely hope it includes those who have been a part of making Detroit such an incredible place from the beginning.”
Candice Simons: “The beauty of Detroit lies within its people.”
After returning home to Detroit in 2013 after 10 years in Chicago, Candice Simons started her outdoor advertising firm, Brooklyn Outdoor, in Eastern Market. As the city began to redevelop, many of Simons’s friends began venturing into the downtown area more and were going to her for recommendations. It's how her Instagram account, @jadoredetroit
, was born. J’adore Detroit serves as an insider’s guide to the city, comprising curated content from entertainment to style and wellness.
“I wanted j’adore Detroit to be an outlet in the community that reflects the things I feel connected to – good causes, local innovators, authentic culture, and entrepreneurs on a mission to make Detroit vibrant and vital,” says Simons. Now, with 18K followers, beyond their Instagram page, j’adore Detroit is a blog
, curated list
, has merchandise
, and even has an event and photoshoot space
, The Loft.
Since its start, Simons said that she’s received positive and authentic responses. “I wanted to create a presence online that also translated into real life, in-person interactions. While the pandemic has changed the level of IRL interaction over the last couple years, many of the people my team and I engage with and promote on social media are friends, collaborators, and people I truly admire,” says Simons, adding that some of the best interactions are with those who weren’t entirely familiar with the city until coming across their content.
“I’ve never bought into the ‘you can’t sit with us’ mentality. It’s like, ‘Hey! You’re new to the city. We’re having a girl’s get-together. Come out, make new friends, new partnerships, explore new opportunities.’ I’m all about community and having this outlet to be inclusive is something special.”
Simons, who has traveled to many places, says she’s never seen a city filled with so much pride. “The beauty of Detroit lies within its people. Even in tough times, when it seems like the world has turned its back on Detroit, the people here persevere,” says Simons. “The city has this industrious background that has given the people here grit and backbones of steel. And, it shows!”
Andrei Nichols II: “I love the feeling of knowing that the city poured so much into me…”
As a self-proclaimed hustler, social influencer, and director of impact, 23-year-old Andrei Nichols strives to ensure that everyone around him is striving for greatness. Nichols, also known as Mr. Duffy, has 11.8K Twitter followers on his page @__dre4
, and recently created a new Instagram account @adnii98
“I love the feeling of knowing that the city poured so much into me, and now I’m in a position where I can do the same,” Nichols says. “Whether that’s through mentoring, collaborating with different business owners, other brands, or just simply supporting Midnight Golf.”
The Midnight Golf Program
is a competitive application and interview-based program that teaches the importance of mentorship, college preparation, life skills, and the game of golf to high school seniors in Detroit. Nichols is an alumni of the program, which he still volunteers for, and he credits it for much of his success.
Over the last few years, Nichols has been working to help fellow Detroiters receive tools to be successful. While still in high school, Nichols co-created Suits for Success, a male mentoring program for students at Renaissance High School, his alma mater.
“Being a part of this new generation of millennials who are thriving in their careers, I have a lot of leverage,” says Nichols. “I want to use my platform to provide other people with the same opportunities and equitable access that others may not have.”
After realizing the impact he’s readily made within the community, Nichols created The Duffy Enterprise
, or #DuffySzn which is a business that encourages others to take a risk on investing in themselves. Duffy, short for Duffle Bag, is Detroit slang for many different ways to “grind,” or work hard.
“Everybody has some type of goal, some type of dream, some type of feat that they want to reach,” says Nichols. “But it isn’t until you tell yourself, ‘I can do it and I will not let anybody tell me that I cannot do it,’ is when you truly begin to manifest the life that you want; and Duffy Szn is the brand that I use in order to push that message.”
Being a part of Detroit’s come-up through the years, Nichols is excited to see more from the city. “We have a younger generation of people who are putting themselves at the forefront of change, innovation, and development. While everything isn’t as Black as I would want it to be, I feel as though Detroit has definitely taken way more strides to make sure that there are resources that benefit minorities in Detroit,” says Nichols.
“But I’m not going to say change hasn’t happened, because we’ve witnessed it. From the business district on Livernois, to the type of art productions that Black creatives have put on for the city; from murals to pop-up shops.” Nichols’s favorite things about though, are things he hopes always stay.
“Detroit means Northland Skating Rink, Clear Fruit and Hot Cheetos during first hour, 'what up doe?', Blade Icewood, BMF, the list goes on. Detroit, to me, is embracing your Blackness, your culture, and embracing where you’re from,” says Nichols. “If you don’t know those things or you haven’t been around those things, it’s almost like you don’t understand the true beauty of what we’ve created, where we’ve come from, and where we’re going.”
How do they deal with the haters?
Though it may seem like it on the outside, being an influencer of any type isn’t easy and these five agree that all followers aren’t always necessarily supporters. In their comment sections over even direct messages, these influencers are negatively reminded of such.
“Of course, there’s always the bad student in the class that has something negative to say,” says Stewart, “but the good outweighs the bad by far.”
Nichols agrees with that mindset. “Of course, we’re going to get the negative connotations [but] Detroit is filled with the best Black artists, and talented people you’ve ever seen, you won’t find any people like us anywhere else.”