Detroiters, we are rising.
It’s not because of the eighth annual Neighborhoods Day on Saturday, Aug. 2, organized by ARISE Detroit. But Neighborhoods Day — with more than 200 block clubs, neighborhood associations, churches, and faith-based organizations, and small businesses participating in festivals, educational events, cleanup projects, garden planting, and volunteer initiatives across the city — is evidence of the thousands of people fighting to save their city on a daily basis.
We are rising.
People in the neighborhoods live on the front lines of the struggle to survive and thrive in Detroit. Every time you see news footage, pictures, or media stories depicting decaying houses and vacant, weed-infested lots, remember that there are people who live near there and they don’t like it either. Every time some tragic event happens in the city that leads on the evening news, remember that somebody in Detroit is standing up to say, “Enough.”
That’s what got Lakeisha Harris and the Heal Detroit organization started, in 2010, after 7-year-old Aiyana Jones was shot and killed during a police raid. Police threw a flash-bang grenade through a window of the house and burst through the front door, executing a search warrant for a murder suspect in the killing of a teenage boy earlier that day. There were angry accusations from the community against the police. And the context of both killings was fodder for nationwide news.
“I said, ‘Let’s do something about it,’” Harris says.
The killings inspired Harris to join with others in organizing the Heal Detroit anti-crime march and rally that spring. Harris is helping organize a reprise of that march for Neighborhoods Day. Marchers will start from Seven Mile Road and Van Dyke on the east side; others will start from Seven Mile and Greenfield Roads on the west side. They’ll meet for a rally and celebration at Seven Mile and Pontchartrain on the north side of Palmer Park. Gospel and hip-hop artists will perform there, and there will be tables set up for chess games, as well as an area for horseshoes. There will be a tent set up for job-readiness activities, as well as free haircuts for kids and more.
Not far east of there, at East State Fair and Keating, the folks at bleedingheartdesign.org will be working with community members to clean up a neglected park overgrown with weeds. After cleaning up, they plan to feast on grilled vegetables harvested from a nearby community garden. Across the street from the park, the Lindale Gardens Community Storefront will officially open.
“We do art and murals that inspire people to be more caring and altruistic,” says Rebecca Willis, an architect involved with Bleeding Hearts who works at the University of Detroit Mercy.
The organization, which is seeking nonprofit status, has a mission of achieving this caring by “using public art, design and architecture as a conduit for social change.”
Over in Brightmoor, the Motor City Blight Busters will begin demolition of nine abandoned homes, and a Sidewalk Festival of Performing Arts will fill the streets. On the east side, Habitat for Humanity will help build a home on Lakepointe Street. Habitat will also be involved in a “blitz build” of seven homes Aug. 16-23.
These examples don’t even scratch the surface of what’s happening on Neighborhoods Day and the number of people involved. There are more than 50 neighborhood beautification and cleanup projects, from Team 313, which works every weekend cleaning up areas of the east side, to youth involved with the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute, who will be cleaning up and gardening near Spokane and I-96 on the west side.
We are rising.
If there’s a festive mood around the city on Aug. 2, that’s because there will be festivals galore. The Crary St. Mary’s Community Council hosts its annual parade in northwest Detroit with floats, a marching band, and a community picnic. The Back Pack Techno Music Festival takes place on Belle Isle, where Backpacking for Success will give away 3,000 backpacks, along with back-to-school supplies, and world-renowned techno artists Juan Atkins, Eddie Fowlkes, Terrence Parker, and Chuck Flask will perform, as well as several live bands. The Michigan Minority Organ Transplant Education Program will hold its annual walk on Belle Isle that day.
Over on the Avenue of Fashion, the University Commons Jazz on the Avenue will feature four sound stages in the Livernois-Seven Mile area. One of them will be in the parking lot of Mike’s Market, where there will also be children’s events with bouncers, face painting, and clowns, as well as a hair and fashion show at 7:30 p.m.
Downtown in Harmonie Park, the Carr Center will host the Starr Commonwealth’s festival, highlighting positive stories about children. The Mosaic Youth Theatre will join with dozens of other children’s performing groups.
You see, we are rising.
Over the years, I’ve written about a lot of groups working in Detroit. I’ve always wondered about how to create a synergy of all this energy and purpose. Luther Keith, executive director of ARISE Detroit, has found one way with Neighborhoods Day.
“It connects the dots of hope in Detroit, all these little battles,” he says. “It connects the dots so you’re able to see all of this in an incredible way. It punches through the negative national psyche about Detroit.”
Neighborhoods Day has grown steadily over the years. For 2014, Detroit Future Inc. is its title sponsor, and the list includes names such as Quicken Loans and Meijer, some major foundations, banks, hospitals, and media. It seems that everybody has a stake in helping the city lift itself up.
But this isn’t something driven by big names and prestige. No politician declared a Neighborhoods Day. It wasn’t dreamed up by a bunch of suits at a PR agency. It was made possible only because people on the ground are doing what they do, day in and day out. Refusing to let go of what they know and love.
We are rising; rising to the sun.
“This whole initiative is maturing,” says Keith. “More people are recognizing the substance when you talk about authentic neighborhood connections. ARISE Detroit is a community-engagement organization. Along with the volunteers, we want a mentality of this is how you create good neighborhoods; you look out for each other.”
There is something else. A local hardware chain is donating vouchers worth $120 each to people in organizations who are engaged in community preservation and cleanup projects. That’s huge for volunteers working with an organization like the Rippling Hope Project. They do minor home repairs on the west side — things like weatherization, caulking foundations, fixing porches, painting garages, replacing toilets and faucets, and clearing fence lines.
“We trim the vine and trees so now they can see their neighbors,” says founder Carl Zerweck III. “Ms. Jones can keep an eye on Ms. Smith’s yard and vice versa. … A lot of individuals buy materials themselves. About 75 percent of volunteers pay for their own materials.”
We are rising; our journey’s just begun.
This column is dedicated to the memory of Charity Hicks, an incredibly essential community activist who was recently killed in a hit-and-run accident.