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Can the Black Middle Class Rebound?

The middle-class dream is getting a Motown makeover with down-and-out Detroiters reinventing themselves and rethinking the path to cash comfort.

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Ready for revival

That ideal of a rebounding Detroit resonates with Torya Blanchard, 34, and Pat Harris, 54, who both left jobs on other people’s payrolls to open businesses in the city’s Midtown district. As relatively newly minted entrepreneurs, they say, they look beyond Detroit’s abandoned and boarded-up buildings, its foreclosed homes, its blight and shaky economy to envision what they are betting will be a brighter future.

As entrepreneurs, they have taken advantage of what, for now, are lower commercial rents and other perks.

“This has been almost a shape-shifting for me. And for a lot people, shape-shifting is important and necessary right now,” says Blanchard, a former high school French teacher and Paris, France-based au pair. As the recession kicked in, she opened Good Girls go to Paris Crepes café in a 48-square-foot space that was vacant for five years. She recently opened Rodin restaurant in the same historic Park Shelton condo complex.

Blanchard says, fortunately, both businesses are thriving. She’s watched as her own kin have lost jobs and struggled to land new positions paying the kinds of wages to which they were accustomed. This economy has forced many to consider becoming their own bosses—something she says is scary and exhilarating.

"I talked to this one woman at a friend’s bar that I go to after I leave my own business at night," Blanchard says, noting the woman’s many questions about her own future. “I said, ‘Why don’t you bend your own reality and make your life what you want to it to be?”

Says baby boomer Harris, who spent two decades in human resources for colleges and universities before launching The Bottom Line Coffee House less than a year ago, “We looked at what was needed in the community, then went about the business of making things happen,“ Harris says. “I’m born and raised on the West Side, over by Central High. I graduated from Cass Tech... And I believe, as the saying goes, that ‘the Lord closes one door and opens another.’”

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