Charge of the blight brigade 

Motor City Blight Busters and the Detroit Project struck again, this time unleashing 2,000 pairs of hands on 80 designated sites throughout the city last Saturday in the fifth annual Detroit Project Day. Volunteers from Wayne State University, the University of Michigan and other groups boarded up four abandoned houses, tore down three abandoned garages, cleared trash, planted trees and painted a mural.

Busloads of students rolled into the Clarita Park area in northwest Detroit around 9 a.m. Event DJ Eric “Magic” Harris started his morning set by announcing, “Time to wake up the neighborhood. We’ve got stuff to do.”

Targeted lots were a Dumpster diver’s dream. Sort of. One site boasted a rusted-out sedan that sat amid the black timbers of a charred garage. Nearby lay a flask and two rusty-lidded jars of what resembled pickled cabbage. Blight Busters honcho John George says volunteers could keep what they found, but it’s safe to assume those items were discarded.

Cole Grandy’s father owns one of the properties targeted for cleanup. Grandy says his father lived in the Clarita Street house for 45 years, but moved a few years ago after he was held up inside his own home. Now he’s “living in the past” and won’t get rid of the property, says Grandy. Volunteers hauled car parts, wooden beams and the kitchen sink past Grandy to trash bins as he watched, directing workers to divert what he could reuse. Grandy salvaged a few car tires, but let his old tire swing join the rest of the refuse.

Members of the youth group Girlfriendz painted a mural across the street from the Blight Busters headquarters on the 17000 block of Lahser, as part of Blight Busters’ Public Art Workz (PAWZ) project. The program’s assistant director, a man who calls himself Courageous, says, “Not everyone goes to a gallery to view art. We’re bringing fine art to the walls of Detroit.”

Volunteer Gussie Nichols, who has lived near Clarita Park since 1974, says the area’s history is “pretty bad,” littered with raggedy houses, abandoned cars and “paper everywhere.” She says she and her husband would clean up what they could, but Blight Busters’ presence in the neighborhood had made their work easier. She says George is “a blessing for this area. If anything needs to be done, he’s out there. He needs to be commended.”

Blight Busters offers a slew of summer volunteer opportunities. To get involved, call 313-255-4355.

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