A is for art. B is for bakeries. C is for Clark Park. And J is for Jessica Hernandez.
Those are just a few examples of the people, places, and things a group of young Southwest Detroiters picked to define their neighborhood for a new project called The ABCs of DET. The project aims to engage community residents in the process of choosing one defining element of their neighborhood for each letter of the alphabet and then producing a 30-second PSA about each one.
The ABCs of DET is the brainchild of Southwest resident Angela Gallegos, and it's an extension of her passion for community-building and voiceover work. The latter passion started early, when she was growing up in Southwest.
"I knew that I wanted to do something with music, something with storytelling, and I always liked to make announcements," she says. "Behind a microphone is just where I've always liked to be."
Gallegos studied broadcast journalism at Wayne State University and then worked at WDET in events and underwriting. However, she says, "I always wanted to be on the microphone." So she headed to Los Angeles for a year in 2017, taking numerous voiceover classes and networking there before returning home to Detroit in the following year. She signed with The i Group, a Southfield-based agency, and began finding voiceover work locally.
But she almost immediately wanted to start giving back. Last year Gallegos founded Voice Art, a community network for Detroit-area voiceover artists. She says she wanted to give both aspiring and experienced local voiceover artists an opportunity to network, collaborate, and realize that "they don't necessarily have to be in New York or L.A."
"They can be inspired here," she says. "They can find work here. They can be signed to agencies here. And there's actually a lot of people who are making a decent living and doing well with voiceover. They just figured it out. But there's also a lot of people who want to and don't know how to."
Since November 2018, Gallegos has held a variety of events through Voice Art, including networking events, a full-day intensive voiceover workshop, and shorter workshops focused on specific segments of the voiceover industry. But her most ambitious project yet is The ABCs of DET, which she conceived as fun and locally relevant way for up-and-coming Detroit voiceover artists to build out their demo reels. She hopes to eventually engage local residents to create their own ABCs for the Westside, Eastside, North End, Midtown, Hamtramck, Corktown, and downtown.
"The whole thing is to figure out what is the true alphabet of each neighborhood," she says.
To pilot the project, Gallegos started at home in Southwest. She reached out to Francisco Tinoco, coordinator of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation's (DHDC) Teen Tech Center, to ask if the youth he worked with would be interested in developing the ABCs of Southwest. Tinoco was enthusiastic and the project got underway in June.
The effort started with brainstorming sessions in which Gallegos, Tinoco, and other adult facilitators worked with the youth to pick which person, place, or cultural asset would represent each letter of the alphabet. Tinoco says there was an interesting "old Detroit"-"new Detroit" split between the young people and their older mentors when it came to their ideas of what best represented the neighborhood. There was a consensus between the two age groups on some ideas though. For example, both quickly agreed that "F" should stand for the long-lived ice cream shop Family Treat.
After agreeing upon their picks for each letter of the alphabet, Gallegos split the young people into two groups. One focused on recording voiceover narration for the project, while the other shot video footage using cameras that had been donated to DHDC. Gallegos also took a group of young people to pitch the project at Southwest Detroit SOUP, a potluck dinner where attendees award micro-grant funding to neighborhood projects. The ABCs project won $300, which will go toward paying a professional editor to edit the videos.
Tinoco says the project was a positive experience for the young people he works with.
"I think they had a really good time," Tinoco says. "A lot of them came out of their shell. They're really artistic."
Angeline Eguia, 18, was one of the young people who worked on the project. She suggested Jessica Hernandez as the "J" of the project's alphabet, and also helped present the project at Detroit SOUP.
"It honestly really helped bring my creativity back out," she says. "I felt like I was in a rut for a while. That project really helped get that back out of me again and I loved it."
Eguia says she particularly enjoyed working with Gallegos. Eguia is planning to go into business, so she appreciated Gallegos giving her the opportunity to present the project in a professional environment at Detroit SOUP, as well as the respect Gallegos afforded her ideas during brainstorming sessions.
"She was so uplifting and positive all the time," Eguia says. "She was always smiling. She was really great to work with."
Gallegos says the funding received from Detroit SOUP will allow for the completion of PSAs for letters A through G. She and DHDC will share those videos on YouTube and social media. Gallegos hopes the first set of videos will help attract funding to complete editing work on the rest of Southwest's alphabet – and to get other Detroit neighborhoods interested in producing their own ABCs.
Gallegos has even greater aspirations for the project beyond that, though. She hopes that it will catch on outside Detroit and that neighborhoods and cities across the country will begin creating their own ABCs – broadening the community she's created here through Voice Art.
"I want to make things come to life here or wherever I am," Gallegos says. "I think it's powerful when you're part of a community, when you're part of a network."