One of the things that surprised me a little about the aftermath of the LeBron James Returning to the Cavs announcement a couple of weeks ago was that the national press response divided pretty much evenly between pundits who regarded it cynically, and people — not just sports people, but all kinds of writers — who responded with complete and often very emotional belief and support. If you read the articles closely, you can see that a lot of the supporting articles, and especially the most supporting articles, came from people who can be termed part of the Rust Belt Diaspora — writers who are not just from Cleveland, but from Buffalo and Milwaukee and Pittsburgh and all sorts of places throughout the Upper Midwest, who have ended up Somewhere Else.
I’m one of those. We’re the Ones Who Left. There’s a mix of relief and guilt in that status that lays so deep after a few years that you lose sight of it until someone else lays it out. Which is what LeBron did.
For those of us who came from that background, what James told to the reporter in the Sports Illustrated article where he announced his decision to return to Cleveland made complete, total and utter sense. We got it. We understood deeply what he was trying to say.
If you didn’t come from that background, I’m learning now that this would be hard to understand. But for us who still hold ties — emotional, family, maybe just memory — to the upper Midwest, what he said wasn’t just words.
It was deeply resonant, like that song that comes on the radio and you have to sing along with at the top of your lungs even when you know doing so blows the cool that you try so carefully to maintain.
If you never left your community or your region, or you left briefly and came back, or you have moved to a place like Cleveland or Waukegan or Kokomo from someplace that hadn’t hemmoraghed young people for decades, it might be very hard to sympathize with, or even care, about the Ones Who Left. They’re gone, and for the most part, they didn’t come back.
Your census numbers and your tax rolls only show their absence. Screw ’em.
So, in the aftermath of The Second Decision, it was a bit surreal to encounter this article about a carefully-designed attempt to re-engage at least a portion of Detroit’s Diaspora in revitializing that city:
At a kickoff news conference today at Lowe Campbell Ewald, Mayor Mike Duggansaid, ” Detroit needs jobs and investment. It also needs people with influence to be ambassadors. But until today, no one has focused on a key resource: people who call Detroit their hometown but now live elsewhere. Detroit Homecoming will provide exactly the right motivation our city needs to bring native Detroiters back home to be a part of the city’s revitalization.”
“This is not a typical business conference,” said Mary Kramer, publisher of Crain’s Detroit Business and co-director of the event. “It’s not open to the general public because we are creating an intimate event for a small number of people. But we are tapping local ‘doers’ to meet and mingle throughout.
“We are going to continually encourage our attendees to think of ways they can make a difference in their hometown. They will be introduced to people, from entrepreneurs to moguls, who are doing great things in the city. All the while, they will be encouraged to get involved.”
Think about the difference a few high-visibility, high-connection, deep-pocket engaged and passionate ex-pats might be able to make. Even if they don’t move back today, what could they do? Invest? Donate? Employ? Trumpet?
When I was visiting the Downtown Project in Las Vegas again last week, one of the new (to me) terms that I began hearing from some of its leaders was the idea of “subscribers.” Not everyone can live in Downtown Las Vegas right now, because the housing options are limited, but they’re talking about people who participate in downtown activities and support downtown businesses regularly as “subscribers.” Like the teacher I heard about from Henderson who comes to a downtown bar after school every day to grade papers and lesson plan over a glass of wine among friends.
If you regarded your community’s ex-patriates as potential subscribers, what could happen?
I’ll give you a hint, as a potential Homecomer and a potential subscriber: You still have a piece of me, even if it’s not showing up on your census list and your tax rolls. You still matter to me.
If you give me a little welcome, help me see that I might be able to make a difference in a place that still matters to me, you know what?
I might be able to. And since I am somewhere else, do something else, I’m tied into something else, I might be able to expand your resources — connect you to new ideas, new solutions, maybe even new resources. And I might be able to help you spead your story.
At a gut level, even if we can’t come home, there’s a part of us that wants to come home. So let us be subscribers. At least some of us would like to come to Homecoming.