The roads that surround Detroit’s Central Collegiate Academy don’t do much to dispel the city’s dystopian reputation. Walking down the unfortunately named Tuxedo Street, lines of neat residential homes are punctuated by boarded-up buildings, burnt-out apartment blocks, and fields of grass where family houses once stood. Every so often, a Tannoy announcement shatters the neighbourhood’s ghostly silence, barking at students who have forgotten their hall passes.
Entering the old gothic school through a metal detector at the front door, inspirational quotes and images of African American heroes like Obama, Ali and Jordan beam back at you. Slogans like “You can prevent gun violence: a hug is a handshake from the heart” grip the walls of its quiet corridors. In the staff room, rapper DeJ Loaf’s IBGM (I Been Gettin’ Money) crew are hanging out, waiting for their most famous member to turn up. As a reward for the school rising out of the PLA (Persistently Lowest Achieving) rankings for the first time in 20 years, Principal McGhee has arranged a surprise live performance of DeJ’s crossover hit, “Try Me”.