The Model D team looks back at 2020

The pandemic, nationwide reckoning, and the presidential election dominated the headlines in 2020, but how Detroiters responded is the top story of the year. Here, Model D contributors and editors reflect on 2020.


Dorothy Hernandez, managing editor of Model D

COVID-19 laid bare the vulnerability of many Detroiters — communities of color, service industry workers, seniors, and more. When the pandemic first hit, it disproportionately affected Black residents, exposing health disparities and systemic inequities. As the pandemic persisted, it devastated small businesses and crashed the economy. Unemployment in Detroit, a city where the poverty rate is nearly three times the national average, skyrocketed to nearly 50% in May. George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police sparked a nationwide reckoning on race. In November all eyes were on Detroit — the TCF Center more specifically — as an already contentious and divisive election became even more chaotic as President Trump’s campaign and his supporters protested the counting of a record number of absentee ballots.


But how Detroiters met these moments of grief, loss, and challenges is the top story of 2020. Countless Detroiters stepped up to find solutions and continued to show up for their communities. For several months straight, protesters took to the streets to rise up against systems of oppression. Youth also stepped up to fight for social justice. Artists captured the emotion through murals and other works of art. Many sprang to each other’s aid, and resilient entrepreneurs even launched or plotted new businesses. We’ve captured these moments through stories and photos in our Nonprofit Journal Project, small business coverage, Resilient Neighborhoods series, profiles on Detroit Innovation Fellows, and more. These stories continue to remind us of the city’s resilience, innovation, and solidarity and keep us going in our mission to lift up the voices of those working toward change and building community.


Nina Ignaczak, editor of Model D sister publication Metromode and founder and executive editor of Planet Detroit

Despite the economic disruptions, many found ways to go on with their work and lives while traveling less or not at all. Some businesses thrived despite the pandemic, and unemployment outside of sectors directly related to shutdowns was less than what we'd feared.


David Sands, veteran Model D contributor and project editor of Resilient Neighborhoods and Voices of Youth

This past year was a year of upheaval and challenges to be sure. The pandemic and the tragic toll it had on the residents of our city was undoubtedly the story of the year. But beyond the barrage of stories written about how the virus impacted us we shouldn't forget that how we responded to the coronavirus was also an integral part of the story of 2020. My own coverage included countless stories about Detroiters doing their best to rise to the challenge of the coronavirus, including businesses in Southwest Detroit and Osborn, the Covenant Clinic on Joy Road, and the young people I spoke with in our Voices of Youth series. The nationwide protests against police-related violence, including the actions of groups like Detroit Will Breathe at the local level, were incredibly noteworthy as was Detroit's role in this year's presidential election.


Erin Marie Miller, frequent Model D contributor

I am super proud of the way Model D covered so many things this year despite the limitations of having a small budget and staff. During the George Floyd protests, I saw way too many vague articles from other outlets focused solely on problems but rarely addressing realistic solutions. Model D's coverage was informative, intelligent, fair, community-oriented, and solutions-focused. I also loved David Sands' "Voices of Youth" series and felt honored to be a small part of it. The impact of the pandemic on children was largely overlooked until a couple of months ago when school started, and it's still not being addressed with enough depth or scrutinized enough yet, so seeing David and Model D checking in on kids during the summer months was really impressive. I was also really proud to be part of our coverage of local human trafficking, and our coverage of small businesses and Black-owned businesses during one of the hardest times in history to operate or launch a business.


Locally and national, the top stories were the ones that were left untold. On a national level, despite public health officials knowing with certainty early on that suicide rates tend to increase during recessions, there has been almost no coverage of that issue (it was actually outright ridiculed after Trump brought it up early on as an argument against lockdowns); there was almost no coverage of overdose-related deaths (the New York Times covered it in July and then it was then ignored almost completely until this month, after a study was released and it couldn't be ignored). To be totally blunt, I lost a lot of confidence in the press in 2020, not only in America but also in the UK, France, and Italy, whose major papers of record I read almost daily for the first several months of the pandemic. They all seemed to cover the pandemic in the exact same disappointing way — lots of confusing messaging, sweeping generalizations, identifiable politicization, very few specifics, and even less scrutiny or challenges to authority or policy, lots of mocking people who tried to ask questions. Because of those failures, I feel like the public has been denied a "big picture" perspective on our overall current situation.


Kate Roff, Model D contributor and project editor of our Detroit Innovation and chronicling the small business journey series

I am yet to write a story where I don't learn something and despite the horror that was 2020, this year was no different. As well as getting to report on the comeback of mutual aid, I covered a series about social innovators in Detroit, Highland Park, and Hamtramck neighborhoods, where residents are building community gardens, establishing urban farms, installing equity-building resources like solar charging stations and green hubs. Many of these grassroots projects proved sustainable through COVID-19 because they are already focused on accessibility — something that I feel we could learn from in our response to a crisis.

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