Detroit professor: Cuba's experiences applicable to Motor City

Image 1 of 4

President Obama has become the first U.S. sitting president in nearly 90 years to visit Cuba, and with that, people such as Professor Charles Simmons are able to reflect on their memories.

FOX 2’s Josh Landon spoke with him at the Hush House Museum, which he operates in Detroit. In 1964, at the age of 22, Simmons and many others went to Cuba, which was illegal at the time, and not easy to pull off.

“We had to go secretly from Detroit to Chicago to Philadelphia to Paris to Czechoslovakia, which is no longer in existence … (Then) we went from Prague to Ireland to Newfoundland to Havana,” Simmons said.

When asked why he went through the process, the professor said it came down to simply being curious.

“There were four of us from Detroit who were all students and we were anxious to find out what was actually happening since the Cuban Revolution,” Simmons said. “We didn’t believe what we were reading -- that everything was negative. We wanted to see for ourselves."

During his six-week trip, the professor said he saw people striving for a better life, and young people, women and people of color in leadership. The people in Cuba used what they had to improve their way of life. He said he believes those are lessons that can be used in Detroit.

“You see the pictures all the time of the old cars. They’re still driving cars from the 1940s and ‘50s,” Simmons said. “That’s all they had, and they figured out a way to make them work. We have to do that in Detroit. We have to figure out how (to) use what we have to develop ourselves and that can be done. We have a lot of youthful energy here now.”

On an even broader scale, the professor believes this moment can help the U.S. in the future.

“This can also have an effect on change in the U.S. foreign policy that will decrease the militarism and increase diplomacy, and that will decrease the amount of military spending that’s taking away from our domestic needs,” Simmons said.