Opinion: How Detroit women have inspired hope throughout the pandemic

Detroit has always been an inspiration to me. I grew up coming down to the Gaelic League Irish-American Club as a child, and now I live and work in Corktown.

My grandfather grew up not too far away and was even visited by the well-known Detroit figure the Fr. Solanus Casey. In many ways my life has come full circle. In recent years I’ve found new inspiration in this city that I have always known and loved. 

Two years ago, when I returned to Detroit after years in Dublin and Washington, D.C., I wanted to reconnect with the city. A friend had given me Charlie LeDuff’s book “Detroit: An American Autopsy” and I thought that was a good place to start. I had always had an idea for a social enterprise that would empower women and help highlight their stories. In my experience in public relations and media, I felt that women’s voices and their stories were never represented enough in culture. But, I never really knew what this project would become — and what it is still becoming.

Detroit women, like Najah Bazzy, selflessly gave of themselves and completely dedicated themselves to the health and wellbeing of others, Bryan writes.
Najah Bazzy, founder of Zaman International (Photo: Visual Lion)

As I read LeDuff’s book, I stumbled upon a part where he talked about the Latin phrase on Detroit’s flag, “We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes.” That was a “suddenly” moment. Detroit has gone through hell and back, but there is always hope. Detroit has always risen from the ashes. In my mind, women stand out as the embodiment of this.

Women are the most resilient, powerful, inspiring beings — many of them have been through hell and back, but they have risen from the ashes — and are stronger than ever. And these women are empowering others and raising up armies around them. That is why the social platform and podcast that I founded, 1 Girl Revolution, was born to highlight the stories of everyday women who are changing the world through their lives. 

Over the past year, we have come through one of the most tumultuous, confusing and difficult years of our lives — through it all, women were on the front lines changing the world through their lives and they were my reason for hope. And Detroit women, in particular, seemed to embody the city’s motto.

While most of us quickly focused on our own lives and well-being when the pandemic hit, some Detroit women selflessly dedicated themselves to the health and well-being of others. Even when we did not know what the future held or how long things would go, these Michigan women and those around them sacrificed their lives, found innovative ways to help others and made history.

In honor of Women’s History Month, I would like to introduce some of the women who have inspired me throughout the past year — and share their stories and their incredible work with you.  

I met Najah Bazzy, founder of Zaman International, just before COVID hit, Bryan writes.
Kate Bryan with Zaman International Founder, Najah Bazzy

I met Najah Bazzy, founder of Zaman International, just before COVID hit. She was one of the last people that I sat with and got to interview in person. Najah, a 2020 Detroit News Michiganian of the Year, and her team have served Detroit’s impoverished communities since 1996, and they now reside in a 40,000-square-foot facility in Inkster that assists thousands of marginalized women and children every single day. During the pandemic, Zaman International offered grocery and household goods pickups, and the group’s case managers continued helping clients access support, housing and any other essentials they needed during this difficult time, as well as delivered emergency food boxes to women and children in need.

I had the fortune to meet Treger Strasberg, left, founder of the Detroit-born organization Humble Design, Bryan writes.
Treger Strasberg, founder of Humble Design with Kate Bryan

Another inspiring woman I had the fortune to meet before COVID is Treger Strasberg, founder of the Detroit-born organization Humble Design. Humble Design helps people transition out of homelessness by designing and furnishing living spaces for them. It is an incredible organization. When COVID hit, they blew me away with how quickly they switched gears to collect and distribute household essentials to those in need during the pandemic including pillows, sheets, blankets, microwaves and coffee makers, dishes, towels, furniture and more.

Michigan-born Mary Alice Stephenson and her organization GLAM4GOOD worked to collect new clothing and personal care essentials and distribute them to those in need, Bryan writes.

Michigan-born Mary Alice Stephenson and her organization GLAM4GOOD did a similar transition but in a different space, and worked to collect new clothing and personal care essentials and distribute them to those in need. While that was already their mission, they shifted into high gear during the pandemic because there were so many people in need, and they were able to serve more people than ever during this difficult time. I interviewed Mary Alice via Zoom during the pandemic, and was so inspired by her zeal and passion to serve those who were struggling.

Metro Detroit-born Caitlin Cullen, the revolutionary founder of Tandem in Milwaukee inspired me during this time and gave me reasons to hope, Bryan writes.
Kate Bryan and Tandem founder Caitlin Cullen

Another is Metro Detroit-born Caitlin Cullen, the revolutionary founder of Tandem in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When I think about COVID and women that inspired me the most during this time and gave me reasons to hope — Caitlin and her team at Tandem are at the top of that list. I reached out to Caitlin two years ago about a film project that I wanted to do on her story and Tandem, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.

I’ve followed Tandem’s work and was absolutely blown away by Caitlin and her team when the pandemic hit. As we all remember, everything shut down for weeks and we all hoped that “by Easter things would be open,” but that never happened. From the very beginning — March 19, 2020, to be exact — Caitlin and her team announced that the restaurant would no longer be accepting orders from paying customers; instead, they would solely be feeding people in need — for free.

The need was so high that they ended up partnering with other local restaurants so they could feed even more people, and they were distributing hundreds of meals a day for months on end. One year later, the restaurant remains closed to customers, but Tandem continues the work of feeding those in need throughout Milwaukee. It now has the support of the city of Milwaukee and many other incredible local restaurants. 

These women are absolute inspirations and they never stopped changing the world through their lives — even amidst one of the most difficult chapters of our lives. These women have not stopped giving, helping and innovating. I hope that we all strive to emulate these women and strive to make a difference through our own lives everyday.

Each of us has the power to change the world: There are little things and big things that we can do every single day to make a difference. And while the pandemic opened our eyes to the many people that are in need in our world, we should each strive to implement a new lifestyle where we look for ways to help others in our daily lives, through our career and through every aspect of our lives. 

While the world continues to look for answers, vaccines and solutions to the many problems we are facing in our world, Michigan women — many from the Metro Detroit area — are changing and healing the world daily.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we should recognize, honor and emulate these women that are making history every single day. These Detroit women are reasons for hope and they should remind us that we too have the power to change the world through our lives. 

Kate Bryan is the founder of 1 Girl Revolution, a social platform and podcast that highlights the stories of everyday women changing the world through their lives, and lives and works in Corktown.

This piece was first published by The Detroit News.

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