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Neighborhoods Day gave bad news a black eye

On Neighborhoods Day, I saw a city rise.

No, not in bricks and mortar, or skyscrapers.

But in the hearts and souls and sweat equity of thousands of people, city residents and suburbanites, people of all colors and religious persuasions, who will not give up on Detroit.

I saw it on Seven Mile and Livernois with University Commons and Hopscotch Detroit as the entire neighborhood rocked to the music, dancing and hopscotch skills of a group of young performers.

I saw it at Eight Mile and Dequindre at the Belmont Shopping Center with the Bringing in Change Festival by Community United For Progress in musical performance and school backpack giveaways for kids.

I saw it on Puritan with the Fitzgerald Community Council as they cleaned up and hauled away trash and debris in their neighborhood.

I saw it at a small community gathering and picnic at St. Louis Luce Park with the St. Louis-Luce Community Block Club Association.

I saw it in the joy of hundreds of kids playing baseball at Maheras Gentry field with the Detroit Tigers Hometown Championships, collaborating with the Youth Development Commission.

I saw it at Clark Elementary School with Handyman Ministries and more than 300 volunteers from General Motors Corp., boarding buildings and clearing debris.

I saw it at a house being renovated on Conner with Habitat for Humanity of Detroit working with volunteers from Bank of America and the Health Alliance Plan.

I heard it and saw it in the soaring voices of singers belting out the tune “I’m A Believer” at the Neighborhoods Day kickoff ceremony at the Roberts Riverwalk Hotel on the city’s riverfront.

All of this, and so much more in neighborhoods all over the city, made the 6th annual ARISE Detroit! the biggest and best ever, with more than 200 registered organization participants and people contributing in so many ways all over the city – with cleanups, health fairs, concerts, festivals, education forums, sports events for kids, information forums and fairs and so much more.  Detroit, you did it again!

Thanks for making this another great day for our city, whether your event had 20 people, 200 or 2,000. We are creating something special here and one day the world  will notice that despite the many challenges that we face as a community, we are moving on up.

A special thanks to universities, organizations and businesses that did community service projects at the a number of Detroit Public schools, including Wayne State University, Wayne County Community College District, the Detroit Media Partnership, City Year Detroit, Handyman Ministries, General Motors Corp., the Cody Rouge Action Alliance and the law offices of attorney Joumana Kayrouz.

This was the first Neighborhoods Day for the Shrine of the Black Madonna, located on Linwood at Hogarth on the city’s west side. Church members used the day to give out free food and clothing to clean up the area around the church.

“It was very worthwhile to be part of,” said church member Michael Jones. “Our members have been talking about getting the church more engaged in the community and this was a way to do it. It got the church members and also got the church’s neighbors out to help.”

What can a day like this mean for Detroit?

“Nothing happens over night, but every year we do something that builds and will have a transforming effect on our conditions and people’s minds and spirits,” Jones said. “It’s a process, working toward change and transformation. We definitely will be part of it again next year.”

The Detroit House of Hope adopted a park on Stoepel Street and did a cleanup. Michael Deramus, the director of the program, was surprised when he was contacted by suburbanites who worked along city residents on Neighborhoods Day.

“That tells me that Neighborhoods Day could be regional,” he said. “It has great potential. It also reminds me to redouble my own effort to help the city.”

In the Palmer Park area, the Holistic Development Community Center  partnered again with the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints to give away 400 backpacks with school supplies, combined with a neighborhood cleanup and games for kids.

“Neighborhoods Day brings the whole city together,” said Linda Allen of Holistic Development. “It promotes unity.”

In southwest Detroit, Madeline Black’s educational program, Widening Advancements for Youth (WAY), grabbed lawn mowers to cut high grass in vacant lots and around homes.

“We are used to working in the school but we wanted to put some sweat equity into the neighborhood,” she said.  “It builds a lot of pride when you make the neighborhood look better.

“I think Neighborhoods Day is creating something that is lasting,” she added. “You have people of all kinds working together, educators, business people and others. It’s a spark to connect things. It gives bad news a black eye. It makes everyone’s small efforts so much bigger.”

Of course, Neighborhoods Day is not about one day. It is about what groups do throughout the year and, hopefully, will encourage others to become involved on some level with any of the hundreds of groups working for change in the city.

No, crime will not disappear overnight because of Neighborhoods Day. Neither will poverty, unemployment or any of the other litany of issues we face as a community.  But none of that is an excuse to do nothing. Rather, let it compel us to action to write a new story for Detroit.

Year by year, chapter by chapter, we can make it better.

EPILOGUE

A few days after Neighborhoods Day, I got a call from a local radio station asking me to offer my insights on a couple of particularly heinous murders in the city. My comment was that such crime is unacceptable and we simply must continue to work as a community to improve our conditions.

Then later that day, I was listening to WDET and heard Corey Booker, the nationally recognized mayor of Newark, N.J,  a city with problems much like Detroit, who was asked what advice he had for Detroiters.

His response: Small actions by one individual can make a difference, keep pushing, keep working, no matter how big the challenges. That’s when change happens.

CLICK ON THE LINK TO SEE PHOTOS AND LEARN MORE ABOUT THE NEIGHBORHOODS DAY SCHOOL PROJECTS

http://detroitk12.org/content/2012/08/05/thank-you-volunteers-arise-detroit-and-community-partners-help-to-prep-dps-school-buildings-for-new-school-year/

Luther Keith is executive director of  ARISE Detroit!

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