By Luther Keith, Executive Director, ARISE Detroit!
The woman on the phone was apologizing to me.
“We’ve always been part of Neighborhoods Day but folks are scared because all of the publicity over these block party shootings,” she told me. “They voted not to have a block party this year. I feel really bad about it but I can’t change their minds.”
I thought of that possibility as well as the 9th annual Neighborhoods Day approached; would the publicity generated by several shootings at unrelated incidents outweigh the pride and hope the day engenders in neighborhoods all across the city?
Would it scare people away?
I was hopeful it would not, and indeed, there was none that I knew of until that fearful phone call.
I thought for a moment of the women’s plight and then offered this suggestion.
“You don’t have to call it a block party to do something on Neighborhoods Day,” I said. “You don’t have to block off the street. You can do something right at your own house. Cook some food, invite your neighbors over and just enjoy yourselves. Neighborhoods Day is not about how big an event you have; it’s about the spirit of what you do, large or small.’”
“I never thought of that, but you know, you’re right,” the woman responded with a sense of relief. “I can do that. I can invite my neighbors over and we can still have a good time.”
So that’s what she did.
And how did things turn out?
“We had a wonderful time,” she told me recently. “We barbecued. We had about 25 people and everyone enjoyed themselves. We should not live in fear. Next year, we’re going back to our big block party. But I am so glad we went ahead and were part of Neighborhoods Day again.
“We can’t let incidents control our lives. Yes, we can be more aware, but we can’t stop living our lives.”
Like this woman’s event, throughout the city on Neighborhoods Day, Aug. 1, more than 200 events, projects of various kinds—cleanups, parades, festivals and more – were held without major crimes or incidents. No shootings, assaults, robberies or rapes.
That actually is the norm, but it gets lost when the local media rightfully reports a shooting. The intensity of that coverage can give the inaccurate impression that Detroiters cannot gather in groups – large or small – without the criminal element spoiling things.
On Neighborhoods Day, there were at least five major festivals in neighborhoods throughout the city – each involving hundreds of people, and in one case thousands – without shootings or other kinds of mayhem.
They include the Gratiot Splash on the lower east side near downtown Detroit, the Bringing In Change Festival at the Belmont Shopping Center in northeast Detroit, Jazz on the Avenue on Livernois near Seven Mile on the west side, the Grandmont Community Art Fair in the Rosedale Park area and the Sidewalk Festival of Performing Arts in the Brightmoor neighborhood.
Nothing happened at these events but smiling faces and people having a great time with their neighbors. The same can be said for numerous other church events, parades and, yes, even block parties throughout the city.
In fact, since 2007, when Neighborhoods Day began, ARISE Detroit! has promoted and marketed a cumulative total more than 1,400 community improvement events and projects — none involving shootings. Of course, we all know what would happen if a shooting occurred at a Neighborhoods Day event. That story would probably land on the front page or lead a local newscast.
One community leader told me how he was contacted after one of the “block party” shootings by a radio host who only wanted talk about the reason for the shooting, but expressed little interest in talking about Neighborhoods Day and its positive impact on the community.
None of this is meant to downplay the seriousness of shootings when they happen. Detroit Police reportedly are concerned and are reviewing policies for monitoring large neighborhood events.
In fact, many groups arrange for their own security details to assist at their events.
That makes sense.
Crawling into a hole and being afraid to come out does not.
Thank you, Detroit!
The 10th annual ARISE Detroit! Neighborhoods Day will be held Saturday, August 6, 2016.