CITY RISES ON 9TH ANNUAL NEIGHBORHOODS DAY A DAY THAT IS CHANGING DETROIT

ARISE Detroit! Neighborhoods Day PSA: Click here to view

Belting out a song at the Bringing In Change Festival.

“What Neighborhoods Day does really well is bring out neighbors. They participate in a project and then they have a sense of ownership and have pride in the neighborhood.”
-Payton Wilkins, East Side Community Network

THE CITY RISES, AND THE NEIGHBORHOODS CHANGE

By Leslie Ellis

ad-imageFrom the east side to the west side, from downtown to the north end, they came armed with paint brushes and shovels, creativity and love, ready to make a difference. There were people from Detroit, volunteers from the suburbs, big corporations and small churches.

All together, they accounted for more than 250 community improvement projects in zips codes all over the city, making the 9th annual ARISE Detroit! Neighborhoods Day on Aug. 1, the biggest and most far reaching in history.

“Neighborhoods Day helps us to have pride in where we live,” said Edna Jackson of Detroit, who attend a UAW Jobs Fair in southwest Detroit on Neighborhoods Day. “We drive up and down the street and say, ‘When is somebody going to do something about that? That’s what you’re watching today. It encourages people to continue throughout the year. It gives you some idea of what you can do to make a difference in your community.”

Perhaps Detroit Circus performer Eric Scott Baker said it best when he spoke to the Neighborhoods Day crowd gathered around him at the Sidewalk Festival of Performing Arts in the Old Redford community in northwest Detroit.

“You are the manager of your reality and you can be anything you want.”

Here’s a snapshot of some of the Neighborhoods Day events:

GRATIOT SPLASH: Lower East Side

The scent of hickory smoke and thump of dance music created a block party feeling Saturday as the Gratiot Splash event kicked off Neighborhoods Day.

In a grassy lot near Eastern Market, children tumbled joyfully in a colorful bounce house, bustling vendors set up booths and adults took a cardio workout class under the big tent. The morning dawned with prayers for Detroit led by Prophet Cedric Banks from Heart of Jesus Church.

Later, volunteers Nehemiah Hamm of Detroit and Speed Miller of Ypsilanti fired up a massive metal barbecue to cook hot dogs for the community on behalf of Marracci Temple No. 13 in Detroit. The temple also provided face painting and pony and carriage rides.

“We want to help support the event for the day,” Hamm said. “We do it every year.”

“The kids love it,” Miller added.

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The United Way of Southeastern Michigan was on hand to offer resources, free health screenings were available and Mosaic Youth Theater performed.

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Derek Blackmon of Black Family Development organized anti-crime marchers at the Gratiot Splash.

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BikeVon group at the Gratiot Splash, getting reading to tour Detroit on Neighborhoods Day.

RIDING IN THE D: East Side Bike Cruise

A diverse cavalcade of smiling bikers circled up Saturday at the potential site of an Olympic-level cycling track before heading out on the inaugural Neighborhoods Day bike rally.

The 25-mile “Riding in the D” bike ride started at The Gratiot Splash and visited sev1eral Neighborhoods Day events and was a nod to the popularity of cycling in the city.

“Pretty much any weekend, you’re going to have two to three-hundred bikers going through Detroit,” said Calvin T. Hughes, Vice President of Touring for Wolverine Sports Club., citing the Slow Roll and Critical Mass bike rides.

“Riding in the D” organizer Yvonne Rucker, who’s also owner and executive director of BikeVON, said she hopes the ride will become an annual part of Neighborhoods Day.

BikeVON’s mission is to introduce kids of color in Detroit to the Olympic sport of track racing.

Rucker supports the Detroit Velo Project’s plan to build an indoor cycling track, also called a velodrome, in Detroit. The track would cost $3-5 million and still needs city approval. “Riding in the D” embarked from an empty lot near Gratiot Avenue and Vernor Highway that is one of the sites under consideration for the velodrome.

Rucker hopes to convince potential neighbors of the project’s value.

“We’d like the community to look at it in a positive way,” Rucker said. “We’re hoping for community support.”

CHESS KINGS AND QUEENS: East Side

Members of the national award-winning Detroit City Chess Club challenged each other, their coaches and the community to battle wits Saturday outside Chrysler Elementary School on Lafayette.

Tables, chairs and chess boards set up on a shady stretch of sidewalk near downtown served as an invitation to play.

“You get people that drive by and want their kids to play it to learn. Some say, ‘We can’t play now, but can you give us more information?’ ” Coach Kevin Fite said. “It’s open to anybody. Most of the kids are national champion kids. They compete all over the country.”

In 2002, Fite was a mathematics teacher at the city’s now-shuttered Duffield Elementary School for kindergarten through eighth-grade when the chess club began.

“I asked the kids if they played chess. Only two admitted it. Out of 150 kids, those two came,” Fite said. “But, more and more started coming. Then, some of the popular kids came. Once the popular kids started coming, it just took off. It changed the culture of the whole school. When new kids would come, they’d ask them, ‘Do you play chess?’ ”

“An eighth-grade girl asked me, ‘What if high school doesn’t have chess?’ I didn’t know what to tell her. That’s how (the citywide club) got started, because of her.”

Playing chess builds students’ self-esteem and opens new horizons, Fite said. He added that most club members make it to college.

Zoe Frazier of Detroit, who will enter eighth grade at University Prep Science & Math Middle School in the fall, has been playing chess with the club for the past four years.

“When we play in the community, people see all these kids beating the older guys. They actually want to see us play,” she said. “Coach Fite is always telling us to play people we don’t know so we can teach them or learn from them. When you beat an adult, it feels kind of good.”

If you missed your chance to play chess with the club during Neighborhoods Day, don’t worry. The Detroit City Chess Club welcomes the public to join in games held from 4-8 p.m. most Friday nights in Prentis Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Visit the DIA’s website for upcoming dates.

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Members of the national award-winning Detroit City Chess Club face-off during the 9th annual Neighborhoods Day.

UAW LOCAL 22 JOB FAIR: Southwest Detroit

Next August, you might find Percy Johnson relaxing on a fishing boat in Louisiana.

But there was no sign Saturday the community action program chairman for UAW Local 22 in Detroit plans to retire at the end of the year.

Instead, Johnson prepared job seekers during the union hall’s first Neighborhoods Day job fair with the intensity of a coach whose team is down at half time. Approximately 50 people turned out for the event and received information about job openings and training programs; 80 additional participants received employment counseling over the phone, he said.

“The work is here, but the people don’t know where to go or what to do to get the work,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to bridge that gap.”

No high school diploma or GED? No driver’s license? Previously incarcerated? Representatives from Focus:HOPE, Southwest Solutions and Access for All were on hand to match job hunters with the right programs to overcome these hurdles.

“You can just see the change in people when they find they can get that kind of help,” said Edna Jackson, a social worker for Focus:HOPE. “When folks come in and are really down on their luck, we can help them.”

The only deal breaker of the day? No drugs.

“A poor person, all he’s got is to alter his mind. But once you give them employment, they change completely,” Johnson said. “The opportunity (to work) is here in Detroit like never before.”

Need help with your job search? Visit www.focushope.edu or call 313-494-4300 for more information about workforce development and education programs. Or, attend an upcoming meeting of the City of Detroit’s Skilled Trades Task Force. Meetings are held the last Tuesday of each month (except in August). The next meeting will be held Tuesday, Sept. 22. Call City Council President Brenda Jones’ office at (313) 224-1245 for more information.

FARMING IN THE CITY: Far West Side

Just past the placid river, where green-leaved branches dance in the breeze and insects sing a summer song, you’ll find D-Town Farm.

The seven-acre plot inside River Rouge Park on Detroit’s west side is a haven from the city’s crumbling concrete, pulsing highways and status quo. D-Town Farm grows fresh produce, as well as a vision for a different kind of future.

The farm is an outreach effort of The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. The coalition employs urban agriculture, policy development and cooperative buying to give African-Americans a leading voice in the city’s food security movement.

“This (growing season) is my first time ever being on a farm, except being in my grandma’s garden. It’s really peaceful,” said volunteer Imani Smith of Detroit. “It’s a great place to connect. You get to meet people from all walks of life and you find out you have things in common.”

One of those people was the Rev. Gary Wright of Saints Peter and Paul Jesuit Church in Detroit. Wright brought several members of his church to D-Town Farm on Neighborhoods Day.

“We were looking for a place to do some service and this seemed like something really different,” he said. “It was great.”

The church members toured D-Town’s hoop houses and garden beds. Then, they pulled weeds and cleaned a median between the farm and a tidy row of ranch homes across the street.

“What they’re doing is producing food that serves people in the community,” Wright said of D-Town Farm. “It changes the way we distribute food.”

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Malik Yakini of the Black Community Food Security Network on his tractor at the D-Town Farm at River Rouge Park on Neighborhoods Day.

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These volunteers with Rippling Hope spruced up neighborhoods on the west side of Detroit.

YOUTH CREATED MURALS: East Side

A bakery near a swing set. A gun marked with a red “X.”

These are some of the images children used to express their hopes for Detroit in a new mural on the city’s east side. The colorful, seven-panel artwork was the focal point of a small gathering at Warren Avenue and Philip Street during Neighborhoods Day.

Music enlivened the corner, where kids picked up a paintbrushes wet with color to work on another mural while families could get a bite to eat.

The event was held in the Chalmers neighborhood, where empty lots frequently interrupt lovingly tended brick homes with neatly manicured yards.

“What Neighborhoods Day does really well is bring out neighbors,” said Payton Wilkins, Youth Engagement Manager for the Eastside Community Network. “They participate in a project and then they have a sense of ownership and have pride in the neighborhood.”

Wilkins said the Eastside Community Network aims to transform the community using a mix of economic development and land use revitalization.

“This area is slowly gentrifying. It’s slowly starting to become a more diverse neighborhood,” Wilkins said. “We really wanted to give our youth a voice. Their mural represents what they want to see in Detroit and what they don’t like. It’s a big statement.”

AT THE LIBRARY: CELEBRATING 150 YEARS WITH BOOK GIVEAWAYS: In Midtown

Five-year-old Millie Harris was so excited about Neighborhoods Day, she didn’t even want to eat breakfast before leaving home.

“She’s having a blast. We’re doing a cultural weekend and it’s perfect!” her mom, Malon Harris of Detroit, said as Millie bopped around a bounce house on the lawn of the Detroit Public Library’s main branch. “She made her puzzle at the African-American museum. She planted her seed at the science center. Now, we’re here.”

The library used Neighborhoods Day as an opportunity to celebrate its 150th anniversary with music, crafts, food, free books and a clown tying balloons.

“We consider ourselves as the community’s living room,” said A.J. Funchess, the library’s assistant director for marketing and communications. “We try to provide our community with what they need. Right now, that’s very technology-driven.”

He said the library has adapted to the digital age by offering e-books, streaming video, Wi-Fi access and more than 700 public access computers at branches throughout the city.

The library’s Neighborhoods Day celebration inspired Harris to inquire about getting a library card so she and Millie can come back to check out books.

“If it wasn’t for this, I wouldn’t have even thought about it,” she said.

“(Neighborhoods Day) was really good, when you have a parent on a tight budget. I wish I could have gotten my school involved, brought them down on a field trip,” said Harris, who is principal of Murphy Performance Academy in Detroit. “This is something they normally wouldn’t be exposed to. I’ll explore doing that next year.”

DANCE CITY FESTIVAL: Harmonie Park, Downtown

Fringed by greenery, hula dancers swayed under blue skies as a gentle breeze whispered through the peaceful park.

But this was no Hawaiian beachside retreat.

Rather, it was a performance during the three-day Detroit Dance City Festival that culminated on Neighborhoods Day. The festival was put on by the Detroit-based nonprofit ARTLAB J and featured workshops and exhibitions by local, national and international performing artists.

“(The lineup has) been very diverse this year,” said Jiwan Jackson, performing arts manager for The Arts League of Michigan. The organization, which celebrates African-American artists, helps to present the festival.

“Our goal is to have different people from different backgrounds engaging with each other,” Jackson said.

Clifton Tuggle of Detroit was delighted to discover the Detroit Dance City Festival performance in the city’s downtown Harmonie Park neighborhood.

“I just stumbled on it. I like cultural things, I enjoy stuff like this,” he said. “I think it enhances the city. Bringing that to Detroit is an excellent thing.”

BRINGING IN CHANGE BACK-TO-SCHOOL RALLY: Northeast Detroit

“You must be registered to pick up a backpack,” Shirley Burch boomed into the microphone. “Line up for backpacks this way.”

The longtime community organizer sported a jaunty red sailor cap as she marshaled the crowd during the “Bringing in Change Back-to-School Rally” on Neighborhoods Day in northeast Detroit.

Hundreds of people attended the event that featured backpack giveaways, a visit from Detroit Tigers mascot Paws, a picnic pavilion, miniature train rides for kids, music, health screenings and more.

Prophet Cedric Banks and other members of Heart of Jesus Church in Detroit set up a prayer circle during the event and prayed for dozens of people.

“I think (Neighborhoods Day) is something special. I think it’s brought a spark to this city,” Banks said. “It’s brought a lot of people out who have visions. They’re coming to Neighborhoods Day – ARISE Detroit! is giving them an opportunity. It affects a lot of people’s lives.”

Burch echoed that sentiment.

“The day couldn’t have went better,” she said. “We have had such an outburst of love that, like a tree, it buds out and multiplies.”

It’s the eighth year Burch’s organization, Community United for Progress, has participated in Neighborhoods Day. C.U.P.’s key partners include Imperial Supermarket and Belmont Shopping Center at Eight Mile and Dequindre roads, where the event was held.

“We’re giving away 650 backpacks. What aren’t given away will be shared with the Detroit Police Department,” to distribute to the community, Burch said. “Eight years I’ve been here and every year it gets bigger. People wonder how they can get involved, how they can make a difference in their neighborhood.”

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Hundreds of youngsters like these received free backpacks at the Bringing In Change Festival at the Belmont Shopping Center in northeast Detroit.

SIDEWALK FESTIVAL OF PERFORMING ARTS: Northwest Detroit

Imagine you’ve been dropped into an artist’s dream.

In an alleyway festooned with colorful streamers, a crowd gathers around an upright bassist, a drummer and a trio of violin players. Nearby, a circus performer plays with fire and dancers leap through the street. Children have their faces painted and poets cry out.

This is an artist’s dream, but one she’s transformed into reality.

Native Detroiter Ryan Myers-Johnson founded the Sidewalk Festival of Performing Arts, located at the Artists Village on Lahser near Grand River, to celebrate independent artists and build community. The third annual outdoor festival was the event’s largest to date. It drew more than 60 artists and hundreds of people to the alleys, sidewalks, streets, gardens and courtyards of the city’s Old Redford and Brightmoor neighborhood.

Performers included Detroit poet Jessica Care Moore, Ballet Folkloriko de Detroit, Gabriel Brass Band, opera singer Kisma Jordan and Mosaic Youth Theatre.

The free festival attracted a diverse audience from the city and suburbs, who engaged with the artists and each other in joyful wonder.

“It’s my first time and it’s incredible,” said Hayley Thompson of Huntington Woods. “It feels like everything’s a pop-up activity. It’s very organic. It’s very inspiring.

“This is pretty much the main reason I know anything about this neighborhood,” she said. “I work in Detroit but I’m still very much a suburbanite.”

Dan Aprilianto of Ann Arbor, whose wife Emilia Javanica performed a puppet show for kids during the festival, agreed.

“It’s interesting,” he said. “It’s really good for the city because it attracts so many people to come to Detroit.”

SUMMING IT UP

Neighborhoods Day activities were slated to continue throughout the month.

“It says a lot about the spirit of the people in our neighborhoods,” ARISE Detroit! Executive Director Luther Keith said. “The growth in registrations, as well as the strong sponsorship support from businesses, foundations and volunteers, is a clear sign that more people are recognizing that creating vibrant neighborhoods is essential for Detroit’s comeback.”

For the second year in a row, Detroit Future City was the title sponsor of Neighborhoods Day, joined by a record number of more than 30 major sponsors.

“Part of the DFC Implementation Office’s mission is to empower Detroiters to engage in the city’s transformation, and this event is another shining example of putting that sentiment into action,” said Dan Kinkead, interim Director of the DFC implementation office..

Elected officials also showed their support for Neighborhoods Day.

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and his team adopted Bagley Elementary School and spent the day gardening, cleaning and painting to prepare the building for the school year. Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, Councilmen Scott Benson and James Tate, and Department of Neighborhoods Director Charlie Beckham all attended events.

Corporate volunteers that adopted schools for projects for Neighborhoods Day included, Blue Cross Blue Shield, PNC Bank, Meijer, FCA Chrysler. Volunteers also come from Oakland University, Wisdom Lodge No. 57, and Oakland County Community College.

Leslie Ellis is a Detroit-area freelance writer.

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