“Understanding Who We Are” – A Town Hall Conversation

I’m honored and pleased to be a panelist for “Understanding Who We Are” – A town hall conversation about Detroit and Detroiters. This timely and important event will explore and discuss the diverse communities that makeup the metropolitan Detroit region. I hope you will be able to join us if you’re available on the evening of March 22. Here is the official press release for the event.

Wayne State University’s Detroit Orientation Institute (DOI) and One of Us Films are hosting a series of free town hall conversations examining Detroit’s communities – and a screening of the documentary film titled “Regional Roots: The Birth and Evolution of Detroit and its People,” produced by Carrie LeZotte of One of Us Films with the DOI. This inaugural town hall, hosted by the Task Force on Race Relations and Ethnic Diversity, will be held on Monday, March 22, 7 p.m., at The Birmingham Community House, 380 South Bates, Birmingham, Mich.

For further information and to reserve your seat, call 248-644-5832, or e-mail racerelations@communityhouse.com.

Following the screening of the 26-minute film, audience members will participate in a conversation moderated by Detroit Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley exploring why the various communities came to the Detroit area; what roles they play socially, politically and economically; what conflicts occur and what opportunities are available to work together. The audience also will learn some myths and truisms about the various communities.

Panelists from various ethnic groups in the Detroit area will be on hand including: Devon Akmon, deputy director, Arab American National Museum; Ozzie Rivera, director, Community Based Services & Family Preservations Programs, Health and Human Services, State of Michigan; Heaster Wheeler, executive director, Detroit Branch, NAACP ; and Sook Wilkinson, chairperson, Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission.

Covering 300 years of history, “Regional Roots: The Birth and Evolution of Detroit and its People,” uses the immigrant experience as an introduction to the diverse landscape of the Detroit region. From the earliest French and German settlers to today’s growing communities, the documentary illustrates how immigrants continue to shape the region.

For more information about the film, visit www.oneofusfilms.org. Regional Roots will also be shown locally at the Main Theatre on April 21 and 25 as part of a One of Us Films Showcase. And it will be shown on Detroit Public Television on Monday, April 26 at 10:30 pm.

To learn more about Wayne State University’s Detroit Orientation Institute, visit www.doi.wayne.edu.


Devon Akmon

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Stolen! Steps To Protect Your Identity During a Crisis

Today marks the two-week anniversary of having our car stolen. After years of parking in sketchy areas of Detroit, our car was stolen from a seemingly safe area within the city. However, given the current economy, it’s no surprise that grand theft auto is on the rise. It’s a sad state of affairs in our region.

We’ll spare you the details of our travails. However, considering that my wife and l both had our laptops stolen with the car, we thought we’d share with you the lessons we’ve learned on protecting yourself from identity theft when personal information is compromised.

What To Do If Your Identity Has Been Compromised

  1. File a police report and specify that there is the potential for identity theft.
  2. Immediately contact one of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, or TranUnion) and place a fraud alert on your credit report. An initial fraud alert stays in your file for at least 90 days while an extended alert stays in your file for seven years. It is not necessary to contact all three major agencies; by filing a report with one, the others receive notification within 24 hours. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):

    A fraud alert requires potential creditors to either contact you or take reasonable steps to verify your identity. This may cause some delays if you’re trying to obtain credit. To compensate for possible delays, you may wish to include a cell phone number, where you can be reached easily, in your alert.

    Be sure to check your credit reports periodically, especially for the first year after you discover the identity theft, to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.

  3. File a complaint with the FTC. This is another means to document the situation in case fraudulent activities should occur on your accounts.
  4. Were the keys to your home or your garage door opener lost in the theft? If so, immediately change the locks on your home. Additionally, reset the frequency on your garage door opener.
  5. Believe it or not, the scallywag might contact you. Therefore, we recommend immediately contacting your phone service provider to unscramble blocked numbers. This is a service that you can purchase at any time.
  6. Reset all passwords on online accounts.
  7. Contact all organizations that you have accounts with (banks, utilities, credit, etc.) and alert them of the theft. Request an additional security measure that requires you, the account holder, to provide information that would not be included in standard documentation (now they possibly have access to maiden names and all the other standard “security” questions/prompts). Additionally, make sure that you continue to receive statements on a regular basis. Thoroughly review them for any fraudulent activity.
  8. Cancel all extraneous accounts that are not often used.
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The Implosion of J.L. Hudson’s Flagship Store in Detroit

At 5:47 PM on October 24, 1998, the iconic J.L. Hudson’s flagship department store in downtown Detroit was imploded. As I recall, there was much controversy surrounding former Mayor Dennis Archer’s decision to bring down this _______ (eyesore; historically significant structure; reminder of better days in a tired city; etc.). Sadly, to this day, nothing has been built upon this massive footprint in the city. Almost twelve years have passed and I can’t help but wonder what could have happened had that magnificent building been restored, rehabilitated and/or adaptively reused.

As a young art student with a love for the city – most of my creative work focused on Detroit – I made a point of attending the destruction of this icon. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the smartest move I’ve made in my life. Who knows what I inhaled in the plume that engulfed the city following the implosion that day (I’m sure I lost a couple years of my life). I remember feeling both exhilarated and depressed, simultaneously. I documented the destruction I saw with my 35mm SLR camera. My goal was to eventually do something with the series of images.

Originally, I planned to print a series of nine images showing the collapse of the structure. However, after further thought this didn’t seem appropriate. Later, I thought about screenprinting the series on Hudson’s store bags. The name of the series was to be 13 Hour Sale! (yeah, it’s satire for those familiar with Hudson’s). In the end, my ambivalence and personal confusion over the building prohibited me from finishing the series.

Today, I’m snowed in and feeling a bit nostalgic. I recently located some scans of the images on an old Zip disk (yes, the quality of the scans is poor). I thought I’d share them here with you today. Only a handful of friends and family have ever seen these images. If you have recollections of the building or old Detroit, please do share your thoughts in the comment section below (or email me if you prefer to be private).

Hudson's Implosion 01
Hudson's Implosion 01
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Hudson's Implosion 02
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Hudson's Implosion 03
Hudson's Implosion 04
Hudson's Implosion 04
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Hudson's Implosion 05
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Hudson's Implosion 07
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Hudson's Implosion 09
Hudson's Implosion 09

Other resources:

– Devon Akmon

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Puerto Rico Travelogue: Day Six

Yesterday was about as perfect as it gets. Highlights included a visit to the Ayala Crafts Workshop, a hike in El Yunque National Forest, a refreshing swim at Luquillo Beach and dinner at the neighboring rustic kiosks, and a nighttime kayak trip to see the bioluminescent bay near Fajardo.

Our first stop was at the Ayala Crafts Workshop in Loiza to check out the folk art of Raul Ayala. Ayala is a member of the musical group Los Hermanos Ayala and a master artisan of vejigantes.

Vejigante masks and costumes are worn by people dressed as vejigantes, or people who represent 11th-century Spanish Moors, in Puerto Rico during the time of Carnival, as well as during the festival, or carnival, of St. James in July. Vejigante masks date to the 1700s Spanish traditions, and represent a spiritual battle between the Apostle James and Spanish Muslims.

After purchasing a couple of Ayala’s beautiful masks, we made our way further down the coast to El Yunque. EL Yunque is a designated UNESCO Biosphere and the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest system! Imagine a place that gets 100 billion gallons of rainwater a year! We enjoyed a great hike while taking in the lush vegetation and the many beautiful waterfalls along the modernized trails.

Afterward we headed to the beautiful Loquillo Beach to cool off and freshen up with a swim in the ocean. Because we arrived late in the day, we didn’t get too much time to relax in the water. However, by this point we had worked up a pretty mean appetite and we were looking forward to eating at the renowned rustic kiosks next to the beach. I’m not sure how many food kiosks there were, but it seemed like the line of eateries stretched out at least a quarter of a mile. There was so much amazing, traditional Puerto Rican food to choose from. This stop was definitely a highlight of the trip for me!

To end the night we headed further out to Farajo for a kayak tour of the bioluminescent bay. The luminescence is caused by micro-organisms (dinoflagellates) that glow whenever the water is disturbed, leaving a trail of neon color. Because there was a moon, the bay was not nearly as illuminated as one would have hoped. But still, the two hours navigating the kayaks under a star filled sky was amazing.

All in all, this was the perfect last full day on the island. Our flight back to the States departs tomorrow afternoon, so we have limited time for much else.

Yunque 03 La Coca Falls
From Puerto Rico: Day Six

– Devon Akmon

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Puerto Rico Travelogue: Day Five

Yesterday started off rather normal and ended on a weird note. Highlights for the day included an outstanding Puerto Rican breakfast at La Bombonera, a relaxing walk along the Paseo de la Princesa and the western coast of Old San Juan, and our Thanksgiving dinner at Marmalade.

La Bombonera was the perfect place to start the day. We enjoyed the restaurant’s renowned mallorcas and cafe con leche. Mallorcas are the perfect sweet and savory breakfast. A mallorca is “a buttery bread grilled and sprinkled with powdered sugar, which can be eaten with any combination of ham, egg, and cheese.” The restaurant is unpretentious and it feels very much like a Chicago diner. It certainly lived up to the hype, and no stop to Old San Juan would be complete without a visit to La Bombonera for a mallorca.

In the afternoon I enjoyed enjoyed a leisurely walk along the Paseo de la Princesa and the western wall of the city. The walk was amazingly scenic and relaxing. We saw some amazing historic architecture and the original gate to the city. Given that it was a holiday, that weren’t too many other people out and about. If time permits, I’d like to go for another walk along this route. It would be a great place to catch a sunset over the bay.

The night ended on a weird note. We had reservations for a Thanksgiving dinner at the highly acclaimed restaurant, Marmalade. The place was booked solid, as it was one of only a handful of restaurants open for the holiday. While the food was outstanding, the three-course meal took over three hours and our server was a bit inept. After asking our server to speak with the house manager, we were told there wasn’t one. However, we were told the executive chef/owner would try to speak with us when he had a moment. We weren’t actually expecting to speak with him, given all that was going on in the restaurant. So, we were surprised when he emerged from the kitchen and spoke with us regarding our meal. To make for a good experience, our meal was comped and we were given a free bottle of champagne. Peter Schintler, owner and chef, is a real class act. A big thanks to him for making a bad evening turn good. Good customer service goes a long way.

As a side note, the cast of True Blood was in the house last night. Apparently some of the cast are shooting a film in Old San Juan. Stephen Moyer, the main actor, bummed a light off me outside the restaurant. Talk about a surreal evening.

From Puerto Rico: Day Five

– Devon Akmon

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Puerto Rico Travelogue: Day Four

Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan when traveling. Yesterday was one of those days. After spending a couple of hours hunting down the only available rental car in San Juan, we departed the Old City for a trip to a coffee plantation in Ponce. Well, at least that was the plan. After a 1.5 hour drive, we arrived at Hacinda Buena Vista with high hopes for the tour of the farm. Little did we know that Hacienda Buena Vista was a historic plantation, not a working coffee farm! I know this sounds bad given my occupation and all, but we just weren’t enjoying the government-run historic site. We wanted to visit an actual working plantation. We had tried calling several other coffee plantations for tours, but it was to no avail. This home roasting coffee lover was incredibly disappointed, as were the rest in our group. We quickly reached a consensus and decided to leave the tour and pursue other options.

Southern Puerto Rico is said to have amazing beaches. Since we were in Ponce, we thought we’d try visiting one. Let’s just say the beach we found via our guidebook was not very impressive (it was surrounded by an industrial park, and this is where we saw our first horse running wild down an urban street!). In short, we decided not to visit this beach. While I would have loved to visit the rest of the city of Ponce, the others in our group were very much determined to visit a beach. So, we drove another hour west to Boqueron to catch the setting sun over this more tranquil and scenic beach. Again, that was the plan. We were first greeted by rain and, when we arrived at the deserted beach (it was Thanksgiving eve), our bodies were quickly consumed by mosquitoes. Needless to say, our stop at the beach was short and there was no sunset to be seen. By this point it was too late to visit the neighboring wildlife refuge and most restaurants we already closed for the holiday. We decided it was best to make the three-hour drive back to San Juan to find dinner.

Now, you are probably thinking what a waste of time! Yes, the day included many loses. However, we still managed to have a good time and the long, scenic drive gave us the opportunity to at least see much of the island. Up until this point I had never seen so many horses and chickens running wild in both rural and semi-urban areas. I guess Puerto Rico is way ahead of us with free-range animals!

Tomorrow, Thanksgiving, should be a relaxing day. We will continue our culinary tour of the city and take in some leisurely walking tours of San Juan. We wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!

A horse relaxing near the street in southern Puerto Rico.
Horse in the street

– Devon Akmon

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Puerto Rico Travelogue: Day Three

Today we paid a visit to Casa Bacardi, home to the world’s most popular rum. Several years back we started a habit of visiting distilleries and breweries when we travel. Up until this point, we’ve had great luck with our experiences. Generally the visits are educational, fun, and include good times tasting good beverages. Sadly, Casa Bacardi was a bit of a letdown. It was a somewhat educational experience, but we were really annoyed that we could not tour the actual distillery. Instead, our docent led the tour group through a replica distillery. Speaking to this, I’m not quite sure why we couldn’t take pictures of the “fake” exhibits. In any case, I found the experience to be highly annoying. It felt like the entire tour was one disgusting marketing campaign. Our visits to Appelton in Jamaica and Woodford Reserve in Kentucky were much different, and for the better. On the plus side, we did get to try a couple of rum drinks for free. I also got a good deal on a bottle of 8 year old rum. As a side note, until today I wasn’t aware that Bacardi also owns Grey Goose vodka and Bombay Sapphire gin.

Today we continued our culinary escapade of San Juan. We grabbed lunch at Tio Danny’s (see my Yelp review) upon returning from Casa Bacardi. This was the first time I had fish tacos made with red snapper! These rank among the best fish tacos I have ever eaten. For dinner we ate Aureola (see my Yelp review), which is just a few blocks from our hotel. This place was a real shocker! We were tired, hungry and not very picky at this point in the evening. The menu appeared to be so-so. However, the food was right on! I really enjoyed the ceviche salad. Dharma had the same dish, and she too thought it was delectable. I have a feeling we’ll be trying to make ceviche salad when we get home.

Tomorrow we are heading to the center of the island to explore coffee plantations and then we are driving south to Ponce. It will be our first day braving the roads with a rental car.

Bacardi 02
From Puerto Rico: Day Three

– Devon Akmon

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Puerto Rico Travelogue: Day Two

When we arrived at The Gallery Inn on Saturday, Dharma was the first to notice the many pictures of Barack and Michelle Obama visiting the hotel. When we asked the clerk about the pictures, all she told us was that the first family visited during the primary election campaign. Yesterday we befriended the maintenance man and he filled us in on the details. It turns out the Obamas rented out all twenty-two rooms during their visit, the place was crawling with Secret Service and the couple stayed two nights in the same room as my parents!

Yesterday, the main highlight was spending a few hours exploring the historic Castillo de San Felipe Del Morro. This fortress was built by Spain over 400 years ago to protect San Juan from seaborne invaders. The sheer size of the fortress is really overwhelming. I’m familiar with the many forts along the Great Lakes, but those are a couple hundred years more modern and much different in design.

Castillo de San Felipe del Morro was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It was also the the set location for the 1997 film, Amistad.

After a few hours at El Morro, we relaxed with some piragua and kite flying outside the fort. Afterward we headed back downtown to buy some hats and aloe (I may be a child of the Mediterranean, but I still managed to get sunburned!).

Morro 03
From Puerto Rico: Day Two

Similar to Jamaica and New Orleans, Puerto Rican food is amazing! It seems hard to find a bad meal (not that we’re looking!). I enjoyed bistec encebollado for lunch at El Patio (see my Yelp review). Unlike South American encebollado, this popular Puerto Rican dish is essentially steak and fried onions. If you ever have a chance to try the Puerto Rican bistec encebollado, I recommend enjoying it with a mixed fruit frappe!

For dinner we ate tapas on the patio at Toro Salao (see my Yelp review). Nothing quite beats a busy day in the sun like a good dinner outside, under moonlight. “Special” sangria certainly helps to keep the spirits high too!

I’m looking forward to more good food and adventures tomorrow!

– Devon Akmon

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Puerto Rico Travelogue: Day One

Greetings from sunny Puerto Rico! We arrived in the Old San Juan (Old City) late yesterday afternoon after a long day of flights and promptly headed to our sanctuary (otherwise known as the The Gallery Inn). The B&B we are staying at is really amazing. The brief description on the website aptly describes the location:

The Gallery Inn, a stunning twenty-two room boutique hotel, sits high aloft the Old City’s North Wall, commanding sensuous Atlantic Ocean breezes and gorgeous views to the South over the entire San Juan Bay and mountainous central regions of Puerto Rico.

Created within six interconnecting townhouses, the Inn’s 23,000 sprawling square feet have been home to artist Jan D’Esopo since 1961. Brick patios, antique arches, ausubo beams, and a multitude of sculptured fountains are among the Inn’s many charming architectural details. Nineteen glorious gardens and five active art studios are tucked away between twenty-two beautifully appointed guest rooms, all with Tempur-Pedic mattresses. Rooms are artistically scattered through seven juxtaposed levels resembling more of a historic museum than a hotel. Guests are encouraged to explore the fifty-two-room mansion to find their own nook of tranquility.

After checking in, we spent a couple of hours wandering the city and then made our way over to Cafe Puerto Rico for dinner (read my review on Yelp). In addition to good food and drink, our waiter was more than happy to inform us on how the US has successfully screwed up the Puerto Rican economy and imposed its imperialist ways upon the island. We all appreciated his candor and the pleasant F-bomb he dropped in his rant.

After dinner, we discovered Tabacadera Ramos, a kind gentleman, selling his amazing handmade cigars in the plaza across the street from the restaurant. The gents happily smoked cigars while walking the streets on the way back to The Galleria. Although we were pretty tired, we made time for a relaxing dip in the pool before bed. It was really quite amazing swimming in the small, funky pool with a gentle rain falling on our heads.

Well, we are now awake, well-rested and fed. Our second day is about to begin. I’ll leave you with some pictures of The Galleria:

Galleria 04
From Puerto Rico: Day One

– Devon Akmon

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