More than 400 people attended the Neighborhoods Rising Summit to hear from speakers like Dan Pitera of Detroit Future City.                           




 By Santiago Esparza

Detroit – Orlin Jones has spent decades volunteering for various groups focused on improving the quality of life in the city.

But one day two years ago, he tired of the wave of negativity he saw pushing through his beloved Conant Gardens neighborhood and decided he would take matters into his own hands.

Armed with a battery-operated drill, he punctured two tires of a vehicle driven by men illegally scrapping a house in the northeast side neighborhood.

“I called the police but got tired of waiting,” the 81-year-old Jones said. “After I took out their tires, they never came back.”

Jones shared his experience during the fourth annual ARISE Detroit! Neighborhoods Rising Summit on Nov. 2 at Wayne County Community College District’s downtown District. The summit was co-sponsored by the Kresge Foundation and Detroit Future City.

Jones was one of more than 400 people who attended the summit, which offered a whole day of 12 workshops on how residents could improve their neighborhoods.

While law enforcement officials advised summit participants not to improperly take matters into their own hands, they did support residents standing up for their neighborhoods.

“There is a sickness,” Detroit Police Chief James Craig told attendees. “We have a solution. The secret to all of this is your involvement, your engagement.”

This is no surprise to ARISE Detroit! executive director Luther Keith. He said his organization works to bring people together to make the city a better place. But none of the efforts will work without community involvement, he emphasized.

That is why the summit is important, he said. It shows Detroiters and city boosters are not taking the city’s problems laying down.

“I want people to see this side of Detroit,” he said as hundreds of attendees filed into workshops on topics such as recycling, public safety, entrepreneurship and forming community groups.

Participants, many of whom have volunteered for 20 years or more, learned strategies, exchanged contact information and found ways to apply for grants. Workshops were held on urban farming and farmers markets, youth employment and youth development, environment and recycling, community arts, obtaining grants, fighting blight and doing neighborhood renovation projects.

“They work so hard and suffer so much,” Keith said of  city residents and acitivists. “I want to help them to be recognized and get help.”

One of those activists was Toni McIlwain, who has spent the past 30 years fighting for improvements in her Ravendale community on the city’s  east side. But this month she is retiring and closing a community center she helped operate for people in her neighborhood.

Mcllwain, who moderated the panel on neighborhood organizing at at the summit, said she hopes someone can step in to keep Ravendale alive, but no potential successor has come forward.

“You have to have the will and you have to have the inner strength … grassroots is about reaching out,” she said.

For the past seven years, ARISE Detroit!  has organized Neighborhoods Day the first Saturday of every August, drawing thousands of volunteers for various community service projects across the city. Keith a former award-winning journalist, said his organization was established to help people like Mcllwain.

“These people are passionate,” Keith said. “They just want some help. They just want some solutions.”

Those solutions will not come from outside the city, said Dan Pitera, of the Detroit Design Center and a  leader with Detroit Future City, a massive effort aimed at reimagining Detroit. He said similar efforts in other cities can be guides but not templates.

“Detroit is a unique place now,” Pitera told the audience. “Every neighborhood makes this uniqueness.”

And some of those neighborhoods need people to step up even when it is not convenient, said John George, founder of Motor City Blight Busters on the city’s northwest side.

“Allowing children to grow up around negative energy is child abuse,” George said at the event, echoing a current refrain when he publicly speaks. “If the city isn’t going to take care of it, I would.”

For 25 years, Blight Busters has knocked down abandoned buildings, cleared debris-covered lots and worked to make his area a bright spot.

“The media loves to beat up on Detroit,” George said. “We have put the focus on the positive in the Detroit.”

Elizabeth Valdez, a founder of Detroit Southwest Pride, attended the summit for tips and to support her daughter, Nyasia, who was a panelist for a session on community arts. She would like to see the summit evolve into numerous neighborhood-specific offerings.

“Something like this needs to be done in our community,” she said. “People really want to step up. If they had the information and the tools they need, we can move the city forward.”

Alease Cookie Moore, an activist form the city’s Cornerstone Village area on Detroit’s east side, said the summit had her feeling more positive about community work.

“I’m ready to go,” she said. “I’m ready to do this. It makes me feel good about Detroit. It makes me feel there is help.”

Keith said the summit reinforces in his mind that residents have the desire to improve their communities.

“It is a great thing to see the hunger,” he said. “These people are serious.”

Funded by the Kresge Foundation, ARISE Detroit! is a nonprofit community coalition of more than 400 organizations, promoting volunteerism, community activism and positive media images to create a ——-better Detroit.

Santiago Esparza is a southwest Detroit-based freelance writer.



In front of hundreds of residents at the ARISE Detroit! Neighborhoods Rising Summit, Detroit police chief James Craig pledged that he was holding his department and his personal staff accountable to the residents of Detroit.

Still, one had to wonder if anything was really going happen when Russ Bellant, president of the Helco Block Club, emotionally asked the chief why police weren’t following up on trying to arrest a suspected rapist in his northeast Detroit neighborhood in the E. Seven Mile/Van Dyke area.

The suspect rapist was well known in the community and had been identified by the woman in an initial meeting with police, Bellant said, but for some reason there had been no follow through from the department and the perpetrator was still walking the streets.

“The women in our neighborhood are afraid,” Bellant told Craig, who was a keynote speaker at the summit. “We need something done.”

The chief did not flinch, speaking from the podium, telling Bellant to give details to his chief of staff who was at the event.

“I got a phone call from the police on Monday,( Nov. 4 , two days after the Nov. 2 summit,” Bellant said. “By Thursday, (Nov. 7) the woman had picked the suspect out of a police lineup and the man had been arrested.”

That is an example of the kind of community/police cooperation that we need to cope with the lawbreakers who do not respect property or people  as they prey on the general community, the vast majority of whom are hardworking  law-abiding residents.

Fighting crime was a major focus of the summit, including a public safety workshop and a call to the community from Barbara McQuade, the U.S. Attorney for Michigan’s Eastern District,  to continue to work with law enforcement officials to quell the violence and shootings that have shattered too many neighborhoods.

She detailed the efforts the Detroit One initiative, a collaborative between community organizations and law enforcement that was announced earlier this year.

Asked at the summit, the one thing that she would urge for residents to do to fight crime, she responded: ““Get involved in a neighborhood association and block club. Be our megaphone. Without a buy-in from the community, law enforcement cannot be successful.”

The more than 400 people who attended the summit were able to partake of ideas and strategies to improve neighborhoods at 12 workshops, focused on developing businesses, urban farming, community art, youth leadership, youth employment, environment, neighborhood makeovers, fighting blight and more.

The takeaway idea for the event was to give people ideas and inspiration to go back to their neighborhoods to make them stronger and move Detroit forward.

That made perfect sense to Linda Smith, executive director of U-SNAP-BAC, an east side housing development agency, who was a panelist on the Fight Blight workshop.

“This was a great way to get information to the people,” said Smith, who was recently named to a federal task force to accelerate the work on blight removal in Detroit. “Sometimes you can’t wait around for permission to do things. You just have to do them. ARISE Detroit! is really teaching residents how to get things done in their neighborhoods, even when they are not members of a block club.

Anne Byrne, president of the Springdale Woodmere Block Club in southwest Detroit, found  residents  who are not part of organized block clubs but who came to the summit looking for direction to change their neighborhoods. “I saw a new crop of people looking to get involved,” said Byrne, who was a panelist  on the Neighborhood Organizing workshop. “They were a very receptive group, looking for resources. It was very encouraging to see people get excited. That means there is potential for communication and activism.
Byrne contends  that heeding the wishes of neighborhood residents must be a priority as new resources come into the city – whether from the government or the foundation community.

“Politics come and go and developers come and go,” she observed, “but the people are always here.”

By Luther Keith, ARISE Detroit! Executive Director


Notes and information from all the workshops will soon by posted on the website,                                                       








“If we start forming our own conglomerates and start investing in our own communities and take pride and get back to the way it was in the ‘60s…We can do what we need to do to build up our own communities. We are all Detroiters.”—

—Detroit resident Oria McClain III, from a Sept. 24 Detroit Free Press story on the state of city


By Luther Keith,

Executive Director, ARISE Detroit!

The  federal government is coming with help. The emergency manager thinks he can help —  even if his legion of critics disagree. Gov. Rick Snyder says he is on board and so do much of the business community.

Suddenly, it seems, Detroit is hot for some of the right and some of the wrong reasons. Things are bad, really bad, but now we are hearing the  drumbeat of a new narrative that says Detroit is on the verge of a historic urban comeback.

Businesses people are running pro-Detroit-ads in newspapers across the country; major news networks and television shows are tripping over themselves trying to get “the real story on Detroit.”

There’s even buzz about a new reality TV show based on revitalizing Detroit.

If you are one of the thousands of residents who live in the city’s neighborhoods, with all of their many challenges and possibilities, you might be asking “What took you so long?”

I’m talking about all the folks who have been working all along, for years on the front lines in the city, for years fighting the blight, for years fighting the crime, for years try to help the schools, for years looking out for our children and the seniors.

So when the cavalry arrives, they won’t find us waiting – they will find us working, bursting with ideas, with strategies, with brilliance and with passion.

That’s why our 4th annual ARISE Detroit! Neighborhoods Rising Summit, on Saturday, Nov.2,  is more important than ever as Detroit grapples with a bankruptcy filing and upcoming elections for a new mayor and city council.

No matter what political stripe you wear, we all can agree that at the end of the day, the people in the neighborhoods must be part of any real strategy to truly make the city rise. A lot of people are saying the right things – now we need to make sure they are doing the right things.

The summit was conceived as an idea to give residents the tools to do the right things in their neighborhoods. It will be a full day of how-to workshops and panels from people already on the front lines of change in Detroit – people overcoming challenges, creating models of success across a wide range of issues that address quality of life issues. But we also want residents to bring and share some of their own ideas as well.

This year will be our biggest summit ever with 12 workshops; Topics covered will include public safety, urban farming/farmer’s markets, developing neighborhood businesses, neighborhood makeovers, community art, environment/recycling, developing youth leadership, youth employment programs, grant funding and neighborhood organizing.

Detroit Future City, the ambitious effort to redefine the city of Detroit based on the input of thousands of residents, will also be featured at the summit. Now moving into the implementation phase, the summit will have a workshop on how groups can get involved in their neighborhoods.

Dan Pitera of Detroit Future City will explain next steps for the program.

Because of a major concern and interest in cutting crime in the city,  Detroit Police Chief James  Craig will share his ideas at a noon luncheon address. We also  will have exhibitors with a wide range of services and programs.

The workshop presenters  will be folks who are already “walking the walk” in neighborhoods all over the city.

They are folks like Kim Tandy, of University Commons, who is developing the retail strip along Livernois between McNichols and Eight Mile, Linda Smith, president of U-SNAP-BAC, and John George, president of the Motor City Bight Busters on fighting neighborhood blight, Dalton Roberson of Michigan Community Resources on obtaining mini-grants to fund your neighborhood projects , Kahilah Gaston, executive director of Vanguard CDC, and attracting volunteers for neighborhood makeovers and much more, Larry Lunsford of the College of Creative Studies on developing neighborhood arts programs and many more.

We will be providing a continental breakfast and lunch. Everything is free but you must register for your workshops because they will fill up quickly.

Last year, nearly 400 people attended the summit, which will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Six workshops will be held in the  morning from 10:45 a.m to noon, with another round of six in the afternoon from 1:45 p.m to 3 p.m.

Click here to register today>

The summit is a great opportunity to learn, network and to teach others what you are doing in your neighborhood.

As Oria McClain III told the Free Press.

We are all Detroiters. Let’s work together. Let’s get it done.




Third Annual Neighborhood Summit, November, 2012



By Santiago Esparza

Detroit Information Network

The cavalry showed up at the third annual ARISE Detroit! Neighborhoods Rising Summit.

That is, if you think of the cavalry as more than 400 city residents concerned about improving their neighborhoods who crammed into classrooms at the downtown campus of Wayne County Community College District recently for the event which has grown every year.

Organized by ARISE! Detroit and sponsored by the Kresge Foundation, the summit brought together activists, community leaders, business owners and everyday residents looking for ways to improve the city in general and their neighborhoods in particular.

“The cavalry is not coming; You are the cavalry,” Penny Bailer, ARISE! Detroit! treasurer and executive director of City Year Detroit, told participants  at the morning plenary session.

The Nov. 3 event was well attended and most of its 10 workshop sessions were standing room only. Morning sessions dealt with entrepreneurship, housing, urban farming, public safety and recycling. Afternoon sessions focused on neighborhood organizing, getting word out about your efforts and events, home repairs, engaging youth and how to obtain grants. Tips, advice and strategies for success came from about 30 community leaders who served as panelists for the workshops.

Although each session had its own set of panelists and focus, they all touched on the same central theme – Detroiters are a resilient bunch and with a little guidance, can reclaim neighborhoods, one vacant lot, community garden or volunteer project at a time.

This theme dovetails with the mission of ARISE! Detroit, a nonprofit founded in 2006 as a way to foster hope and encourage residents and suburban neighbors to get more active in neighborhoods. A year later, Neighborhoods Day was started with about 50 groups and a few hundred volunteers. This year there were more than 200 groups involved with thousands of volunteers spending the day improving neighborhoods across the city.

The summit evolved from the Neighborhoods Day as volunteers looked for guidance to keep their activism going year-round.

“Much like Neighborhoods Day, I do believe the summit has come to be viewed by many in the community as an important annual event and a way to get useful information on improving neighborhoods,” said Luther Keith, ARISE! Detroit! executive director. “It also allows residents to connect with people like themselves who are interested in creating a better Detroit. It is very gratifying to see how the community has responded and we hope to make the Neighborhood Summit bigger and better in the future.”

Summit participants also heard from Charles Cross of the Detroit Works Long Term Planning Project,  sharing ideas to reshape city neighborhoods;  Sarida Scott, from the community building group Community Development Advocates of Detroit, and heard crime-fighting strategies from Andy Arena, former head of the Detroit FBI bureau, who is now executive director  of the Detroit Crime Commission.

Toni McIlwain, executive director of the Ravendale Community group on the city’s east side, told participants who jammed a session on entrepreneurship that it is essential to get the staff of large retailers on board in helping to revitalize neighborhoods.

“You can’t get to the corporations,” said the animated Mcllwain. “You have to appeal to the heart of the managers. They will go back to the corporate offices for you.”

Tom Petzold agreed. His family owns the Belmont Shopping Center on East Eight Mile at Dequindre on Detroit’s northeast boundary. It was renovated in 1999 and about that time, an employee told him  there was an adjacent park – called Dad Butler Park — badly in need of upgrades that the shopping center could help in securing.

Petzold, who also participated in the entrepreneurship workshop, said he would not have thought of renovating the park without it being mentioned to him.  He began seeking grants to renovate the park. About $600,000 was raised and the park now regularly hosts youth sporting events and is a point of pride in the neighborhood, Petzold said.

“This is how we want to do business,” he said. “We want the shopping center to look like something you would expect to see in the suburbs; in West Bloomfield. But the idea to do something with the park came from one of our employees.”

Petzold works closely with community activist Shirley Burch, another workshop participant, who is the president of Community United for Progress. They have built a strong business and community relationship that  they encourage others to emulate.

Bishop Tony Russell of the Maintaining A Neighborhood (MAN) Network told about 40 participants in a workshop on public safety that sometimes all it takes is a resident or two on a block to watch out for neighbors and the idea will spread.

“It is about respect, he said. “Nobody should have to live in fear.”

John Blake, a 30-year-old Detroiter who lives on the city’s northwest side, heard about the summit from friends. He said he came away with self-help ideas to bring back to his neighborhood.

“We have a lot of vacant lots full of garbage and high weeds,” Blake said. “If the city could do something about them, it would have already.  It is up to us (residents) to help out. There is nothing stopping us from cleaning those lots.”

Funded by the Kresge Foundation, ARISE Detroit! is a nonprofit coalition of more than 400 organizations, promoting volunteerism, community activism and positive media images to create a better Detroit.  Learn more at,  or phone, 313-921-1955.