Which way, Detroit?
For more than 40 years, people have been asking that question; after the scars of the 1967 civil unrest and rioting that tore the city apart, after decades of white and black flight, after the massive business disinvestment and failing public schools, after spiraling crime rates and the worst in unemployment with the recession that has ravaged the auto industry – the family meal ticket for generations of Detroiters.
And let’s not forget the corrupt politicians – men and women of accomplishment and education who betrayed the public trust.
With all of that as the backdrop, I still have hope for a transformation in the town I grew up and still love.
Recently, I visited my old neighborhood. The house I grew up in is long gone.
But I ran into Joe Davis, a Ford Motor Co. retiree, now 90 years old, who still meticulously cares for his home and lawn.
Mr. Davis, who lived a few doors down from me, was called “Pops” by kids on the block. He had a son, but took an interest in all of the neighborhood children, taking us to the field to play baseball and just looking out for all of us like we were his own.
He told me things are bad in the old neighborhood these days with abandoned homes and burned out buildings. We owe to it Mr. Davis and other seniors to bring the city back.
But there is more to the story.
Detroit still has some beautiful neighborhoods, neighborhoods with crafted one-of-a kind homes, neighborhoods with strong block clubs and community organizations, neighborhoods where people walk dogs, ride bikes and look out for each other. I know because I live in one.
But we need to do more.
That’s one of the reasons I walked away from journalism after more than 30 years in the business to create a new organization to get more people involved in efforts to improve the city.
ARISE Detroit! is a non-profit coalition of more than 400 block clubs, churches, and community organizations promoting volunteerism, community activism and positive media images to create a better Detroit.
The organization has helped generate thousands of volunteers for a wide range of programs involving mentoring, tutoring and cleaning up neighborhoods.
More than 4,000 people – city residents and suburbanites – recently responded to a call by the Detroit Public Schools, and championed by one of the local newspapers, to get reading tutors to help students in response to shockingly low standardized test scores.
That’s the real story of Detroit — the fact that so many people have not given up and continue to work for solutions.
Perhaps unlike anywhere in the country, Detroit’s foundation community has taken a lead role in the transformation effort, collaborating now more than ever on a myriad of new initiatives involving neighborhood development, education reform and youth initiatives.
New city leadership is streamlining government while implementing a new plan to knock down thousands of abandoned homes. Plans to right size the city and re-craft
neighborhoods, possibly using urban farming as a job development tool, are taking shape.
Whether or not you see them in the news headlines, hundreds of organizations and
thousands of people remain committed to creating a better Detroit for our children and families.
The late Sen. Ted Kennedy said it so well: ”. . . the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”
SEE MORE FROM LUTHER KEITH AND JOE DAVIS ON DATELINE NBC
Learn more about ARISE Detroit! at www.arisedetroit.org>