Jacqueline Bejma

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I was born in Wayne, Michigan and my parents – native Detroiters – moved us around the suburbs 7 times before finally settling in the far west suburb of Canton. Like so many, my family strove to achieve more…and they saw the suburbs as so much more promising than the City. Just like the stories we all hear, my family was a part of the “white flight” out of Detroit. My maternal Irish grandfather was a contractor in Detroit and my paternal Polish grandfather left the Purple Gang of his youth for a career with General Motors. My mother is an enterprising entrepreneur and my father also retired from General Motors, as did numerous aunts, uncles and cousins. Growing up, I heard stories of their time in Detroit, and looked upon those times with envy and curiosity.

Once I grew into my teenage years, I spent a lot of time in the City of Detroit – and I loved it. City life seemed so much more exciting to me than life in the suburbs. There was more to do, more people to meet, more stories to be told. I never listened to the stories I heard that disparaged Detroit. In fact, I used to sneak out of the house to come downtown; my parents were none the wiser.

Once I graduated high school, I attended the University of Michigan – the first in my family to ever do so. I spent 3 years there, never knowing exactly what to study, having become comfortable with my suburban life and weekends in the City. I left the University of Michigan without graduating and decided (much to my parents’ chagrin) to attend culinary school. I graduated and started a catering business, which I loved, but still had a desire to do more. I moved into a corporate restaurant career and found myself miserable. My family’s entrepreneurial background and my yen for Detroit drove to other pursuits. I decided to open a restaurant in Detroit and found myself frustrated with the bureaucracy and difficulty in finding any help to get my business off the ground. I could scarcely get a real estate agent to show me a property.

My frustration led me to some drastic changes. I moved to Chicago to finish a long-overdue Bachelor’s degree in Community Development. While living in Chicago, I worked with a small business incubator in Paseo Boriqua, the City’s Puerto Rican neighborhood on the west side. I also partnered in a tiny gift shop on the north side of the City.

After two years in Chicago, I was presented with the opportunity to attend Pratt Institute in New York to attain a Master’s degree in City and Regional Planning. During my time in New York, I worked on developing workforce development programs for an industrial business in south Brooklyn and another green business incubator and green jobs program in central Brooklyn and a community-based plan for open space and recreation in the South Bronx. I also worked with small business owners and start-up entrepreneurs developing business and marketing plans and creating new businesses in some of the lowest income areas of the country.

While I loved my time in New York, I quickly realized that I missed home. The call of Detroit was just too strong to resist. After two years in New York, I returned home and now live gloriously in the Woodbridge neighborhood. After many travels, I am glad to finally be home, where I belong. I spend most of my time reading social and economic history of Detroit, learning from the past in order to impact the future. My dog, Sergeant, generally sleeps on the sofa while I work to create a better Detroit for all of us.

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