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'Young Detroit' founder tells stories of hope and progress

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Rebecca Cook/Reuters/File

(Read caption) The Michigan Central Train depot sits vacant just west of downtown Detroit. The last train pulled out of the station in 1988. While Detroit's signature auto industry is showing signs of life again, it's also being joined by small entrepreneurs, who tailor 'pop-up' businesses to the specific needs and interests of Detroiters.

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Margarita Barry, a 26-year-old Detroit native, was tired of hearing nothing but dismal news coming out of her city.

In response she developed I Am Young Detroit, a blog that profiles changemakers in her hometown. Today, the site has become a popular hub, illustrating the transformation of Detroit from an economic graveyard to a city of innovators.

Barry is a true entrepreneur with three start-ups under her belt: Detroit Design Lab, a web-based company that provides web-design services for small mom & pop businesses; 71 POP, a collaborative pop-up retail shop for emerging artists in Detroit; and Bohomodern, an online shop and brand that carries an eclectic mix of fashion, home decor, art, and more.  

Dowser: Most people think that everyone has left or is leaving Detroit because of the economy, but you're profiling young people who are staying. What compelled you to stay and would you leave at any point?
 Barry: The opportunities that I saw here to live and create affordably are what kept me here. In Detroit I own three businesses that are well-received and growing, I bought a beautiful house for under $10,000 that I'll get to live in and enjoy, and I've been able to meet and connect with hundreds of people who inspire me on a daily basis. Besides that, the community that I have gotten to know and love, they make me feel welcomed, supported, appreciated – what more could I ask for really?

Who's one of the most inspiring young Detroit changemaker that you've encountered? Anyone that just amazed you, knocked your socks off?
Lauren Henrikson really blew me away, she was I Am Young Detroit's second profile. Lauren started the "Free Store," a roving weekend store for Detroit's homeless community that travels throughout the city. Before I even started the blog, I was inspired by her efforts.... I think she was 18 or 19 when she began the venture as a student at Wayne State University, and I read about her on the college website. Right then and there I knew I had to help in some way, so I volunteered to design the Free Store website and have been following her story every since. It's still very grassroots and going strong!
 If you could change the mainstream news coverage of Detroit, how would you do it?
I think I Am Young Detroit has already contributed to changing mainstream news coverage of Detroit. The mainstream media has been looking to us to source material for their stories; to find out what cool things are happening on the ground floor and who's doing it. There was a point – especially back in early 2010 – where the news coverage was just backwards. Since then we've definitely seen more positive coverage. But now we're at a point where the news is either extremely positive or extremely negative. It would be great to see more balance. It's nice to see more local voices in the media, too, what with Huffington Post Detroit and some of the larger news sites creating local pods.


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