A few weeks ago I celebrated the Fourth of July, much like the majority of individuals who inhabit this large landmass we know as the U S of A.

I take it back. Celebrated might not be the greatest word. Contemplated might be a bit more accurate.

I’ve spent the majority of the summer in a city that’s dying. On workdays, I drive past dozens of people who live in a public park and receive one free meal per day. I’m lucky enough to belong to a carpool in a place known for busses that run hours behind schedule. One of the three security guards at my office told me it wasn’t smart for me to walk past the parking lot even in broad daylight. There is a single national chain grocery store within the city limits for a population of 700,000. The other day after a rainstorm, I watched a woman wade barefoot into a two and a half foot deep puddle on the side of the road to collect water.

Detroit isn’t the America our Founding Fathers envisioned. It’s not the America that our parents or grandparents or great-grandparents wanted us to be raised in. It’s not the America immigrants have dreamed of for centuries or the America we hear about in presidential speeches. It’s not the America Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 3.02.26 PMpeople celebrate on the Fourth of July.

Detroit is the America we don’t want to talk about because it’s a city that displays our flaws and questions our self-proclaimed title of “Greatest Country in the World.”

That’s what I contemplated on the Fourth of July and I wish so badly that I could say this contemplation enlightened me. I wish I could say that I understand the problems of this city and that I see a clear path to revitalization. But I don’t. I don’t know how exactly Detroit fell into bankruptcy or what policies can be enacted to return the Motor City to its former glory.

What I do know is that the people of Detroit are amazing people. Despite the odds, they have hope and optimism. They spray paint the sides of abandoned buildings with words like “Love” and “Faith”. They open free clinics and homeless shelters in the midst of economic catastrophe. They look for solutions to “unsolvable” problems like substance abuse and infant mortality. They care about each other, even when it seems like the rest of the country doesn’t.

The people of Detroit exemplify what it means to be American. And although I am not convinced that the United States is the “Greatest Country in the World”, I have surely encountered the greatest individuals in the world, individuals who we ought to admire, individuals who we ought to learn from. In my eyes, our nation has a great deal of work to do, a great number of things to work on, especially in this city. No single individual has all of the solutions. But if we as a country can aspire to be a little bit more like the people of Detroit, a little bit more hopeful and resilient, I think we might be able to get a bit closer to earning our title of “Greatest Country in the World.”

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Ashley Dayne Bostwick