The City Proper
Imani Mixon won’t let Detroit go down without a fight. Out of The City Proper came her series, Proper Nouns, where Mixon sits down with the most talented Detroiters she knows, who happen to be her friends. Proper Nouns feels like an intimate look into a private conversation between friends, conversations that center around these creatives and their role in their city. Imani Mixon is looking to be the change she wants to see in the world, by letting us know we’re not seeing Detroit in the right light. She’s not looking to put the city on the map, because it’s already there, she just wants it to be one of the places your eyes gravitate towards first. Detroit, like she, is brimming with talent and a desire to cultivate it at it’s highest level. The sooner we all pay attention, the better off we’ll be.
Q: What made you decide to start The City Proper?
Imani: The City Proper itself is something that I started in 2012 when I was still in college studying Journalism and—I don’t know, it kind of felt like all the assignments were meant for people who weren’t me or audiences that maybe I wasn’t familiar with so I just wanted to have something that I could continuously pour into. I guess after class and on weekends I would—I don’t know—I was like obsessed with it. I was doing three posts a week on top of my school schedule. I don’t think I have that energy now. What it’s transformed into now is just a place to hold all of my long form curiosities of like, “What’s the big project I could make?”, and then I just make it for myself.
Q: Where did the name Proper Nouns come from?
Imani: I think The City Proper, it kind of goes back to that. I was in school in Chicago. I’m from Detroit. And even at like a higher educational institution where you think people are cultured, maybe educated—there was this very weird misconception that like you know, “Oh, you’re smart, you’re cool. You do stuff. You can’t possibly be from Detroit.” when that is a big part of my identity. I kind of wanted to rethink that myth and re-frame it like, “Ok, you can be from the city and do it a certain way and not for other people, but in an authentic way.” So the City Proper came from that. Proper Nouns was—I knew I wanted to dedicate a part of it to profiling people. First it was just Q&A, like written blog posts. Then I was like, “this would look so much better if people and I had conversations” so that’s how it turned into a video series and then you know, just regular old “proper nouns” like a person, place, or thing.
Q: Walk us through the process of planning an episode of Proper Nouns.
Imani: My first decision was that I wanted to do a different type of media that maybe I’m not all the way familiar with. Something I’m not capable of doing by myself. I wanted to build a team around something so I’m not just a one-woman show, which made video so easy because I love the things that you can do with it. There’s audio involved, and there’s some kind of storytelling, but I didn’t want to touch any of the editing. The first decision was that I want to do some sort of video or broadcast segment. The second thing was—I don’t know, I felt like I just kept finding myself in the same conversations with people at different places and different times across different industries and I wanted a place to hold them all. From there I wrote down the people who I talked to the most frequently or who seemed to be grappling with the same things. I was like, “Whoa, that could be a season.” Honestly, I had to narrow it down from like thirty people to just five for season one. I would tell them what I was working on—gently—maybe at a party like, “Hey, I’m doing this thing do you want to get involved?” and then later hit them up with a text like, “What are you thinking about the most and what are you struggling with?” It wasn’t like I approached specific people based off of a scene that I wanted to pursue but I asked them what they were thinking about and we built the conversation around that. I definitely drafted a few questions but I wanted to make it a point to not have a piece of paper or a note card with me so it could be a more personal conversation. I would say that after I chose the guest, they self-directed and basically took the conversation where they wanted it to go and I was just there for the ride.
Q: Going back to what you said before about people having misconceptions about you because you’re from Detroit, what do you think the country or even the rest of the world should know about Detroit? What are we missing?
Imani: I think a way of being brought up in nostalgic conversations, “Oh it used to be so cool. It used to have so many things happening, and now…” All these changes are happening. A lot of these conversations are happening without the people who are from Detroit, who have stayed through everything, who have come back even after all the changes and shifts have happened. I think we need to acknowledge that Detroit is one of the first big Black cities that the United States has to offer and with that being the sort of legacy you live up to there’s so much responsibility there. I think beyond the socioeconomic and political changes that are happening even from person to person there so much richness and a kind of awareness that I don’t necessarily see in other cities that I’ve been to. I think Detroit is consistently just the most Black, and the most creative place on this Earth. If not, this side of the sea.
“You have to ugly cry to get kind of beautiful”
Q: Where do you envision The City Proper in the next few years? How big would you like your brand to grow?
Imani: I think I’m less concerned about the reach as far as I’m concerned about the depth. I think since I’m a writer in the city anyway, The City Proper intersects with a lot of aspects of my personality. My biggest tension right now is watching how national outlets come to Detroit, get one very specific story without incorporating the voices of writers, creatives, business-people, just people who have been in Detroit who have the same desire but maybe a little bit more insight. Eventually I would love if it was a must like, you have to come talk to me. If you come to the city and you want to know what’s up, you want to know that you’re doing something right, you incorporate me and The City Proper into the conversation and also, I would love to continue to be the go-to voice—not that I’m the only one, not that I want to monopolize it. I think myself and my network are rooted in the city and very well connected. I think that’s something I’m focusing on. I also just want to see how many different things I can make. I had never done video before this, so to have a video series is kind of crazy and I would love to continue to pursue the things I’ve never done before, under the name The City Proper.
Q: In the first episode of Proper Nouns you talked about having an inner voice to motivate you to take big steps. What does your inner voice say that inspires you?
Imani: I think my inner voice changes. I think I have the benefit of not having to keep it inside myself, so I love to live by myself. I was just talking to my friends about how much I talk to myself. If I’m in a mood or I just need some motivation, it’s not even like I silently have to say it in my mind, it’s like I straight up am like, “Baby girl, you’ll be fine. Everything is okay.” My inner voice is very sweet, and also very vocal. Much sweeter than I am in other situations, but I think it’s a gentle, sweet voice and it’s always affirming…and sometimes it actually comes out of my mouth.
“If I say yes to this, what am I saying no to?”
Q: What does that sound like?
Imani: It sounds like me talking to myself. I think that’s weird and sounds funny, but it’s almost like either me from the past is talking to me or me from the future is talking to me. But just to have my own voice in my own head, out loud, kind of makes it feel more tangible. Honestly if someone else heard me, I hope they would feel the same things too because it’s like, “You can do this. This is the right way to do it. Don’t hesitate to stay curious.”
Q: “You have to ugly cry to get kind of beautiful” That’s something you said that I absolutely loved. Can you break down what that means for you as a creative?
Imani: I’m a Scorpio and we’re supposed to be these hard, crazy, rough, manipulative people and although I can identify with some of those identities, I think more often than not, I’m extremely perceptive. I can only stay unaffected or high-above everything for so long. I would say particularly after you graduate from college or you go through these transitions—doesn’t have to be higher education, and you kind of have to constitute yourself within a new context, like “Who am I?” “What do I really want to do?” “How do I not stray from those standards?” This has been a reoccurring tension and hang up for me. If I say yes to this, what am I saying no to? What do I have to give up? Just us all being honest about the fact that, yeah, shit looks sweet, everything’s looks like it’s cool, or you may think so-and so has everything figured out, but they were just up all night crying about something. Even if it’s not their job, it’s some other life thing happening. I’ve been working to bridge the gap between the personal, the professional, the individual, the collective. Just realizing that being alive is a dynamic experience so we have to be down to experience all parts of it, even the ones that aren’t so fun.
Q: What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken to achieve your goals that has paid off?
Imani: I think it’s beyond any one job or decision and I’m trying to train myself to not think of things as good or bad, or right or wrong when it comes to decisions because sometimes you get the thing that you wanted and you can’t even work within it because of how much hesitation you had accepting it. I think I’ve been leading with my desire and my passion. My whole identity’s been programmed to save certain pieces, like I’m professional, I’m well-spoken, I’m timely, but you’re not going to know that I was out last night, all night. I don’t think we have to separate parts of ourselves just to make other people comfortable or to make other opportunities feel like they’re worthy of us. I think leading with my worth is something I’m still trying to do, but I can feel when I am doing it the right way.
Season One of Proper Nouns is available on YouTube and find Imani’s blog, The City Proper, at www.thecityproper.com.