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Bringing Up Detroit is a new series from Michigan Radio and independent producer Zak Rosen. The year-long series examines the inner-lives of three Detroit families as they navigate the city’s often unpredictable school systems, economy, transportation networks, and neighborhoods.Support for this series comes from:0000017b-35e5-df5e-a97b-35edaf6d0000

Making a way out of no way

58 year-old Christina Lumpkin is her family's sole breadwinner.
Zak Rosen
Michigan Radio

This story is part of Michigan Radio's year-long series Bringing Up Detroit, which examines the inner-lives of four Detroit families as they navigate the city’s often unpredictable school systems, economy, transportation networks, and neighborhoods.


If you meet 58-year-old Christina Lumpkin, one of the first things she’ll tell you is that Jesus keep her going. If she’s a car, church is her gas. And on Sundays, she gets filled up.


At a recent prayer service at Greater Emmanuel Temple of Deliverance, Lumpkin was so moved by the proceedings, she jumped for joy. When she landed, she felt a pull and a pop in her right knee.

Back in July, Lumpkin took a fall that kept her out of work for a week. She thought she had put the pain behind her, but the recent pull, pop, and subsequent swelling told her otherwise.

Despite her knee pain, Lumpkin felt compelled to show up for work the following day. She’s a custodian at DTE Energy’s downtown Detroit headquarters where she dusts, vacuums, cleans, and sweeps during the week from 1-9 p.m. When her boss saw her hobbling in, he sent her right home. This distressed Lumpkin, who hasn’t been with DTE long enough to have accrued paid sick leave. As the sole breadwinner in her family, Lumpkin began to worry.


“It’s so close to the holidays," she explained to me at the pharmacy, while she waited for her pain medicine prescription to be filled. "I just want to do something for my grandchildren.This will be the first time in a long time that I’m able to do it out of my pocket, and it just bothers me that now my knee started acting crazy.”  

Last year at this time, Lumpkin wasn’t working. She was in debt and on the verge of being evicted from the two-bedroom flat she shares with her daughter, her daughter’s boyfriend and her five grandkids.

“I look at where I was and where I am and it’s a wonderful feeling," she says. "There was a time that I was going to different places and getting food boxes. I’m working now, so I can afford it. I can do this. Yeah, it’s still tight. I don’t make a mint. I’m not rich. I’m not making ten and twelve dollars an hour. But I am making a living.” 

The next day, Lumpkin gets the results of an MRI. She has a hairline fracture in her right knee. Her doctor recommends staying off it, but she’s not having that.


“I gotta go back to work," she says. "I said, 'Tell me what you need me to do and I’ll do it, so I can work.' So he told me, 'You gotta keep your knee brace on.'"

Wearing her knee brace, she says, the pain is tolerable, and she can still get her job done.

A week later, we head to the Detroit Medical Center for a follow-up appointment with a bone specialist. Lumpkin looks nervous as she waits for her name to be called. She’s fears she’ll be told she has to have surgery on her knee, rendering her unable to work for a longer period of time.

“I’ve always been a grateful person but now I’m learning really to appreciate more of the little things.I might not run a marathon but to be able to run for a bus, now I can’t even do that, cause my knee won’t let me.”

Eventually, Lumpkin gets called to go and see the doctor. Forty-five minutes later, she emerges from the back with a smile on her face.

“He said there’s no torn ligaments or nothing like that. He said you dodged a bullet,” she proudly explains.

I ask how the good news will impact her holiday plans.

“Well, I’m gonna start getting it together," she says. "It’s looking better. It’s looking better. So this is a good day.”

She can’t talk for long, though. She has to get to work.

Bringing up Detroit is brought to you with support from the Skillman Foundation. Kids matter here.

Zak Rosen is a multimedia producer. His radio features have been heard on NPR, APM, PRI, the BBC, Deutsche Welle and Radio Helsinki. He was a staff producer on NPR/PRX's State of the Re:Union. Prior to that, he was a founding producer of WDET's Detroit Today. He has written for Yes!, The Huffington Post, Model D, and The Red Thread.