In July of 2016, I wrote the blog below. I've changed nothing in the post by design. It's even more relevant today than it was 4 years ago!
I grew up just 6 short miles from the legendary “8 Mile” road Detroit city border. It might as well have been 600 miles. My parents weren’t independently wealthy by a long shot but they put me in private schools and paid for my college education. They thought it was important to expose me to other parts of the world so they took me to 7 foreign countries by 12th grade. Because of my father’s religious contributions to the community they gave him an honorary membership at the country club. So I guess that made me a “country club kid.” One thing I know for sure, I had advantages kids six miles south didn’t have.
The city I was born and raised in was where all the auto executives moved to so they could get away from Detroit. After graduating I coached basketball in our local high school and never had a single African American athlete on my teams. To my knowledge, there were only 3 black kids in our entire high school. Home prices were inflated to “protect a certain community lifestyle.” There were things never said but accepted about the significance of the lack of diversity in the community. If actions speak louder than words, then Black lives didn’t matter in our city.
All of this bothered me. Candidly, at times it disgusted me. For years my way of addressing my confliction about this was donating money to organizations that poured back into Detroit youth. I certainly have been inclusive in my personal relationships. But, I’m not sure it’s been enough. It’s one thing to say Black lives matter and another thing to show it. A few months ago I began investigating volunteering my time to an organization that would contribute to Detroit’s rebirth. I believe I’ve found one of the most successful groups in the City. Their work is both staggering in its impact and impressive in its sustainable results.
For over a decade one of the most effective efforts in the renaissance of Detroit is a 501C3 non-profit organization called LifeBuilders Detroit. I’ll quantify that statement:
- The University of Michigan has written a 206-page report positioning LIfeBuilders as a model for managing effective community change in Metropolitan cities.
- Home Depot, BestBuy, PNC Bank, Sherwin Williams, Kresge Foundation to name just a few companies have donated thousands of dollars and volunteer hours to the LifeBuilder cause.
- JP Morgan Chase donated one of their bank facilities because they saw first hand youth being impacted, economic empowerment, and communitas in neighborhoods that had once been places of fear and crime.
- A public school that has been abandoned for 11 years plus surrounding outdoor fields now will be a 28,000 square foot community center and park area where families will learn, play, and worship.
- 200 plus of the 800 neighborhood children are already involved in day camps, after school programs, dance teams, and community sports programs. This number will expand dramatically with the new community center and surrounding parks.
- As a Community Housing and Development Organization (CHDO) certified by both the county and city, they are afforded greater opportunities to develop more affordable high-quality housing and therefore attract more great families to the community.
- Already scores of streets have been transformed from abandoned, boarded up homes and places of crime to well-manicured homes and lawns. Families safely sit on their front porches and kids now have safe pathways to schools and parks!
Regents Park in East Detroit now has hope! There is so much more to do. We currently are ready to launch a program to finish the community center which, when completed, will change everything. This, coupled with the plans to dramatically increase the number of homes we purchase and renovate will be a model for community development. Youth are being empowered. The neighborhood is being revitalized. True community is being experienced!
My company donates a percentage of our consulting fees to this organization. We’ll also donate our time. Some of the homes we need to renovate can be purchased for as little as $15,000. You can see where even small contributions can do big things! This northeast Detroit neighborhood, part of what was once known as the most dangerous zip code in the city, is being transformed! I’ve seen it.
I invite you to investigate the work of LifeBuilders. Becoming a part of what they are doing can transform lives in the most tangible ways. Join us on this journey of healing and helping.
June 2020 - I have and continue to be involved and contribute to LifeBuilder's Detroit. LifeBuilder's continues to make a monumental difference! As an example, over the past few months, they have raised more than $100,000 for a Regent's Park Neighborhood Coronavirus stimulus program. Black lives matter. Let's DO something together to show it. A gift to LB's would make a difference.
Featured image by Danielle Coke.