Nussenbaum ’12 Urges You To “Move Where You Can Matter,” Including Maybe Detroit

Move over, “Michael S. Roth ’78”—the Huffington Post has a new Wesleyan representative in town, and it’s Max Nussenbaum ’12. Sometimes known for his “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?” cameo (phenomenal audition video included) and his desperate attempts to get Sylvie Stein ’12 to go to prom with him, Nussenbaum has spent the last eight months or so in Detroit, working for Are You a Human as part of Venture for America’s inaugural class. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to tell your Wesleyan friends and Wesleyan friends’ parents that you’re moving to Detroit after graduation, Nussenbaum’s compelling recent Huff Post piece, “Move Where You Can Matter,” is worth a look—as it is for anyone who’s ever felt the urge to resist the gravitational pull of the Wesleyan-Brooklyn Alumni Industrial Complex:

I talk to a guy who’s spending his next year volunteering in a Nigerian slum, and he asks me why I’d ever move somewhere as downtrodden as Detroit. Everyone makes the same dismayed face, asks the same incredulous question: “Why would you go… there?”

And “there” wasn’t just Detroit. At Wesleyan, my alma matter — like at most elite schools — “there” was anywhere that wasn’t a select handful of high-profile cities: the Bostons and New Yorks, the D.C.’s and L.A.’s. We were a cohort raised with tunnel vision, a graduating class who couldn’t find Ohio on a map and who thought “Oklahoma City” was an oxymoron. Don’t get me wrong, I was more than guilty of this myself: I heard Venture for America talk about underserved parts of the country and my first thought was Queens — you know, since everyone was moving to Brooklyn.

At any rate, Nussenbaum concludes, moving to Detroit was the right decision—in part because of the ways a fresh-faced liberal arts graduate can matter at a start-up without “slaving your way up the PowerPoint hierarchy,” but also because the city simply “craves people”:

When you get to Detroit, the city screams at you to do something. It doesn’t matter what — just do something. This message is embedded in the feel of the city: in the wide, radial streets, where hipster bicyclists cross paths with 70’s Pontiacs, and in the rotting buildings, post-apocalyptic in their disintegration, that cry out to be rebuilt into something amazing. And it’s made even more pressing by the practical opportunities: the abandoned properties that can be bought for a month’s rent and the cops who won’t stop you, or even necessarily notice, if you want to make some street art of questionable legality. It’s an amazing feeling to walk down the street, spot a new business opening up, and realize that — partly thanks to the connections I’ve made through Venture for America and partly thanks to the entrepreneurial community’s interconnectedness — I’m only a few phone calls away from the person starting that business.

Reading Nussembaum’s piece as a second-semester senior without settled post-Wesleyan plans, I was struck by the strange reality of choosing where to move after graduation, maybe because I’d never thought about it in the same overwhelmingly obvious terms before. Most of us move wherever we can find gainful employment, however we define the term—right? Some of us go where the best grad program is. For others, it’s the industry. If you want to go into film, you’re probably moving to L.A. If you’re into finance, it’s probably New York. And if you’re unemployed, it’s inevitably your parents’ house. So it goes.

But what if you want to be an entrepreneur? Where do you move? And why?

“I moved to Detroit because the city is full of empty spaces, just waiting for me — for us — to fill them up,” Nussenbaum concludes. While abstract, that’s the best definition of entrepreneurship I’ve read all day, and maybe all year.

Read Nussenbaum’s full piece here. Learn more about Venture for America here.

[Huffington Post]

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7 thoughts on “Nussenbaum ’12 Urges You To “Move Where You Can Matter,” Including Maybe Detroit

  1. Not Drinking This Kool-Aid

    How awesome is it to be able to move somewhere and immediately feel like you own the place even though people have lived there for centuries? How cool is it to be able to buy up tons of land and actively destroy people’s neighborhoods in the guise of hipster creativity and gumption? Pretty cool guys. Pretty cool.

    Does anyone else see how neocolonialist this is? “Empty spaces” to be “filled up”? Come on people.

    1. Max

      Max here. I see your point, and aspects of it are valid, but just to be clear, “empty spaces to be filled up” is not a metaphor. Detroit is LITERALLY full of abandoned, empty plots of land that need people to fix them up and take care of them. It’s not gentrification when the only things you displace are burnt 2x4s and broken glass.

      Happy to discuss further—

      1. Alain

        “It’s not gentrification when the only things you displace are burnt 2x4s and broken glass.”
        “the only things you displace”

        Uh, I don’t think you realize how gentrification works.

        1. Max

          Perhaps, and I’m definitely oversimplifying. I maintain that buying a plot of land in a neighborhood that’s 90% abandoned is either not gentrification or a necessary form of it. If you think I’m wrong, I’m down to hear why.

  2. Adam Bermudez

    I’m one of the big “local government Wesalum proponents” so I say, move back home, wherever it is, and become a community leader there….attend the local town meeting, or community board if its New York City…volunteer or intern or work for your local state rep or city councilperson….renew your old contacts from youth, make new contacts, have a huge rolodex, then see if your local government representatives are innovative or stale, corrupt or principled, nice and useless or mean and smart. It won’t be easy. You may find yourself loving the policies of assholes and hating the policies of your old friend’s dad, the local Mayor. But take your Wes-itude and put it out there in your hometown. If that’s Brooklyn, great. If it’s somewhere less fun without a million Wes-y folk round, well, its still your hometown, your community. OR…Find a new community, but make it yours! (Like Ms. Alexander ’88 who brought KidCity to Middletown. Or all the many Wes alums who took New Orleans by storm the past 8 years. Or one of my favorite people at Wes, who is now in Pierre,SD armed with a law degree from a top law school and why is she in South Dakota? Doing law, yes, but also theater! Cuz there’s theater everywhere, and she’s rocking the Pierre theater scene. Don’t just move to Somerville or Prospect Heights or West Philly because its cool….if you do, have a reason. Etc Etc. Etc. -The Bronxite Wesleyan alum who ran for office, inspired by Majora Carter (who donated to my fledgling campaign!!!which was soo awesome!!!!) to go home and do something in his community and no lie, the Bronx ain’t as fun as L train Brooklyn kids, but its where my heart is. (PS Wesleying’s awesome. ‘Official Wesleyan’ may be less supportive of your endeavors…official meaning The Argus, URelations, etc. It’s a lot easier to get Wes support for your run for office when your dad was President of the university, less so when your a poor nobody who wants to email alums off of Wesconnect and the university blocks your account.)

  3. Jen Alexander

    Love this. When I graduated in 1988, nearly all of my friends moved to Seattle or Brooklyn, Austin or San Francisco. I stayed in Middletown, as did a few of my classmates, and its’ made a world of difference in our lives – in a place that isn’t “done” yet, you get to play in the sandbox. Of course, the irony is that after 25 years, you might find that things have turned around enough that someone wants to knock down the cool old houses and put up a Starbucks. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, but I’m not quite sure what it is at the moment…

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