INTRO: This week, thousands of volunteers are cleaning up Detroit’s north end. They’re almost all from the suburbs. This is one of the poorest zip codes in America. One reason why is 40 years of white flight. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus finds that the residents still welcome the help. They wouldn’t even mind if the volunteers move in.
They started at dawn Monday morning. Two engineers replaced an outside door and some bricks at an 86 year old lady’s house.
“This is the never ending hole that will never stop,” said one of the engineers.
That was on Taylor Street off of Woodward. A man and five women whacked weeds and bushes from an abandoned house on Gladstone.
On Philadelphia street, some boys and men scraped grass grown over sidewalks. 7 years ago, former Detroit News reporter Luther Keith founded a group called Arise Detroit. It’s main goal is fixing up neighborhoods. This year Arise enlisted General Motors, Ford, Quicken Loans and others. A lot of the man and woman power has come from these corporations. They’re covering a square mile along Woodward Avenue.
Gwendolyn Goldsmith is 32. She stood amidst buckets of multi-colored paint. McCarus asked her to describe what she spent the day doing.
“Painting murals on boarded up houses. But for me it’s hope. Artwork is hope. You have to have color in life. Butterflies are colorful. God makes the most beautiful things and they’re colorful. Most of them.”
“Are you a missionary?” McCarus asked.
“No. I’m just a believer. Just a woman of faith. That’s all,” Goldsmith said.
“Do you live here?”
“No. I actually live in Walled Lake.”
“Why don’t you move here?”
“That’s a good question. I don’t know. I haven’t been led to do that.”
“But you’re here right now.” McCarus said.
“This is one thing that the Lord led me to do. I haven’t been led to do anything else yet. That’s the Holy Spirit’s vicinity.”
Goldsmith heard about a church from Westland that does it’s own version of Extreme Homemake over. That was an ABC television series. Church volunteers are building a modest two story house in 6 days. Pour the foundation, lay floor, frame the walls, hang drywall, siding and shingles. A mother and two kids will get it for free. Rick Braunder is a siding contractor from Rochester Hills.
“I think the biggest challenge is just coordination. We’ve got 5,000 volunteers. We’re not only building this house we’re putting roofs on houses. We’re doing a lot of cleaning up the neighborhood in a 45 block area. It’s a challenge but it’s a blessing.”
“Why do you do it?”
“We do it because we’re called to serve?”
“Are you a missionary?”
“No. No. I’m not a missionary. I’m just a Christian.”
Arise Detroit has knitted together this program, LifeRemodeled.com, with several others including Vanguard Community Development and Central Detroit Christian. CDC has worked in this neighborhood for 25 years. But no one has ever fielded 5,000 volunteers in a week. Arlette Lawes lives on Philadelphia, across the street from the brand new house.
“They did it. I needed my chimney fixed,” Lawes said.
“They fixed your chimney. Cool,” McCarus said.
“How about the spectacle of all these white folks from GM here. It’s pretty odd isn’t it?”
Laws giggled. “Why would you say it like that?”
“Well I’m white. I’m odd too,” McCarus said.
“It’s just neighbor helping neighbor. It’s a good thing. It’s a blessed thing.”
“How about if all of a sudden 100 of these people buy houses in this neighborhood. Is that a good or blessed thing?”
“Yeah because when I moved here in 1978 there were no empty lots around. There were pure houses. So that would be good.”
Keith Gresham is 66. He lives on Blaine Street. He says he’s done a variety of jobs in his life.
“Whatever it took to survive,” he says. “As long as it was legal. I was there.”
Gresham has come to watch the new house get built.
“It’s just the spirit of everything. It’s a blessing. It shows the true heart of people once they get together. Thank you. Thank you. You all putting hope here…something that we haven’t had in so long. Every day you see things going down down. Then one day you look up. Boom. So I’m not the only one. It’s going to make a difference. I’m your average Joe here. The intangibles, the hope, the spirit. Thank God I’m just living to see it.”
“But most of these people are white and most won’t come back to this neighborhood,” McCarus says.
“That is the most great thing about it: outsiders coming to help. We’ve been handicapped so long. And it’s so hard for the people who do want to do something. Our main concern is jobs. This brings hope and lets people know we CAN live like human beings.”
We can live like human beings. That was Keith Gresham from Blaine Street in Detroit.