Her spirit was willing, but her flesh was weak.
While struggling with cancer, Denise Kennedy had the heart of a neighborhood activist, though she could do little more than watch the energetic moves taking place in the community around her.
“Four years ago, when I lay in my bed, I dreamed of being part of the transformation,” Kennedy says. “I wanted to be part of what was going on in Detroit so bad, but I couldn’t walk.”
Today, as a cancer survivor, she not only walks, she rallies others to organize and support the active Princeton Street Block Club she leads on Detroit’s west side.
Kennedy and five other neighborhood leaders were recently celebrated at the Michigan Community Resources (MCR) Neighborhood Exchange program’s “The Power of One Dedicated Woman” awards. Lauding the achievements of change agents, the celebration attracted about 100 guests to the Stroh River Place in just its second year.
Neighborhood Exchange participant Dotti Sharp, who conceived “The Power of One Dedicated Woman,” thanked MCR for answering her call to recognize unsung women.
“I give honor to God, who gave me this vision,” she says. “I sat on it for three years. I knew I didn’t have the resources, but God did.”
Jill Ferrari, head of MCR, calls the event an extension of its mission to support and empower block clubs and other grassroots neighborhood organizations.
“What we strive to do is listen to the voice of the community we serve,” Ferrari says. “This is a manifestation of that. Our community is being celebrated and these women are being rewarded for the work they do.”
Along with Kennedy, this year’s honorees include Charlotte Blackwell, president and founder of D7 One Voice Community Association; Michelle Jackson, who started Smallville Learning Farm; Elois Moore, founder of Binder Street Block Club O&R; Barbara Matney, head of Warrendale Community Organization, and Marissa Mewitz, founder of Hashtag West Detroit.
“We work as a team. There is no ‘I’ in our coalition,” Blackwell says. “Even though we haven’t been together that long we have made some amazing, amazing strides.”
Jackson started Smallville Learning Farms as a sustainable community project behind Detroit’s Chandler Park Golf Course to teach neighbors how to use land for food resources.
“The power of a dedicated woman comes from the shoulders that I stand on, my grandmothers, both of them, and my mom, who’s here,” Jackson says.
She cites others in the community, including Sharp, as inspiration to improve her neighborhood.
“They’ve been beaten down, but we don’t know it,” Jackson says. “They’ve been tiredly working, but they get back up and keep going.”
Kennedy salutes MCR’s staff and leaders for investing resources in the city.
“These are people who could live anywhere in the world,” Kennedy says. “They are highly, highly educated and they bring their ‘A’ game all the time.”
Moore echoes Kennedy’s praise for the Neighborhood Exchange coordinators.
“They put on all kinds of amazing programs to make you grow and help you get actively involved,” she says. “I want to continue to get involved with Detroit and make the city a better place to live.”
Scott Benson, Detroit City Council’s District Three representative, presented Spirit of Detroit Awards to the six honorees, along with Sharp and MCR staff members Shamyle Dobbs and Alisha Opperman. The Spirit of Detroit is the city council’s greatest tribute to citizens who contribute to the community.
Sharp is eager to plan for next year’s celebration where more Detroit change agents will be saluted.
“This is just a smidgen of the unrecognized women who are out there doing the work,” she says.