Why the Detroit Historical Museum wants to shine a light on the city’s ‘unsung’ leaders


Attention Black Businessmen and Entrepreneurs of Detroit: The Detroit Historical Museum wants to tell your stories.

On Wednesday, the museum launched a new initiative called The Hustle that aims to tell the stories of Detroit’s “unsung heroes” through a year-long exhibit. The museum is asking for nominations from Black Detroiters from across the city and from all professions, from barbers to grocery store owners, to tell “unexpected” stories and experiences that epitomize Detroit but are often, if ever, not told in museums.

“This project is our effort to dig deep into Detroit neighborhoods to uncover and document the stories of the men and women who make everyday life in Detroit special,” said Elana Rugh, president and CEO of the museum. . “This is another example of our continued commitment to telling all of Detroit’s stories and why they matter.”

The Hustle marks the museum’s biggest new initiative since its award-winning Detroit67 project was unveiled in 2017.

Applications will be accepted until the end of June. From there, a committee will narrow down the list to 36 winners. The first winners will be showcased with artifacts, oral histories, photos and more in September on the center stage of the museum’s Culture Gallery. Six to nine winners will be presented every three months before the initiative culminates with a major exhibition at the end of 2023.

Rugh said the idea for The Hustle, which is funded by the Gilbert Family Foundation, Toyota and others, came about after a conversation she had in 2018 with Detroit Historical Society trustee Marc Bland. Rugh asked Bland how the museum could do a better job of bringing more native Detroiters to visit the museum.

“I said, ‘Elana, we need to have more exhibits that reflect what’s really going on in Detroit,'” Bland said.

Bland said that when you think of landscapers, seamstresses, mechanics and so many others, “these are the people who pushed me and others in Detroit to be successful. They paid for the university, paid for the houses, put the meals on the table, but they weren’t recognized.”

Marc Bland, trustee of the Detroit Historical Museum and founder of the Detroit Hustle Project, delivers remarks during the press conference at the Detroit Historical Museum in Detroit.  The Detroit Historical Museum is launching a new initiative to tell the stories of the city's black entrepreneurs and business owners.  It's called La Bousculade.

Bland said he hopes the museum, which celebrated its centennial last year, is one of the first to show the “fabric” of communities such as Detroit.

“They keep everyone fed, full and motivated. And now I’m glad we’re going to recognize them,” Bland said.

Eventually, Rebecca Salminen Witt, the museum’s director of strategy and marketing, said The Hustle may expand or have future phases to include unsung heroes outside of Detroit and other ethnicities.

“We hope the project has legs and will come back for more iterations,” said Salminen Witt.

But “being here in Detroit and being a Detroit museum, we had to start with Detroit,” Rugh said.


“The Hustle” from the Detroit Historical Museum

To nominate someone who embodies “The Hustle” in their work or community, call (313) 833-4727 or visit https://detroithistorical.org/detroit-historical-museum/hustle.

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Patrick F. Williams