In Detroit, it’s all about the neighborhoods


I told you so.

In an earlier post, I told you that ARISE Detroit has the potential to revitalize this entire city and to very possibly be the single most significant component of this city’s  re-birth. On Saturday morning, Aug. 4, 2007, that potential was on bold display for anyone who cared to take a look around. On that morning, and throughout the entire day, there were more than 50 community-sponsored activities going on throughout the city as part of ARISE Detroit’s “Neighborhoods Day: Renewing the Village.” There were marches, rallies, picnics, barbeques, art displays, music performances, health fairs, information booths, and just about any and everything else you could think of, and it was all jumping off from the East Side to the West Side to the South West Side to the Northwest Side and everywhere inbetween. This was truly a day when neighbors were renewing a commitment to their neighborhoods – and thus to their city – by essentially pledging, as I heard one person say, to “put the ‘neighbor’ back in the ‘hood’. ”

I had the opportunity to spend the entire day riding around with my friend Luther Keith, the one person responsible for envisioning the entire concept of ARISE! Detroit over a year ago when he wrote the idea down on the back of a napkin. No, I’m not using poetic license here to make a better story. Luther really did take a magic marker and scribble the idea down on a piece of paper, and that really is how the whole thing got started. Now Bill Cosby is trumpeting the organization and its accomplishents across the country wherever he goes, and the original twenty-something ARISE! Detroit founding partner organizations has now blown up to nearly 300 in a little over one year’s time. To say that what this organization has accomplished is amazing would be an understatement.

Anyway, Luther and I hit the road around 9:30 that morning and began criss-crossing the city visiting one event after another non-stop until 6:30 that evening. I’ve lived here for 14 years, and as a musician and journalist I’ve had a chance to develop a pretty broad-scope view of this city over the years.  I can honestly say that I’ve never experienced Detroit as I did on that day. Some of the events were well-attended, some were relatively sparse or just getting started, but everywhere we went the most beautiful thing to experience was the spirit and excitement generated by the people. It was hard not to be moved by how happy so many of these people were just to be a part of something that they honestly believed could make a difference in their lives and the lives of their neighbors. And believe me when I tell you that some of these neighborhoods were about as ‘challenged’ as you’re likely to find anywhere in Detroit, but places where folks still are refusing to give up hope and willing to step forward.

It is this kind of irrepressible joy and determination found in the largely ignored and unexplored nooks and crannies of Detroit’s neighborhoods that will save this city. It is the spirit of a people who are accustomed to being down and out, but who have never accepted that this is where they belong. When you can harness this kind of an energy – which is what ARISE! Detroit and Neighborhoods Day is all about – then you have harnessed the power to create a positive future.

So when I say that what ARISE is doing just might be one of the most significant turning points in Detroit’s history, I’m not just saying it because Luther is my friend or because it sounds like a good soundbyte. I’m saying it because I challenge anyone to look back through the pages of Detroit’s history and find something like this. I don’t think you will, but maybe I missed something. If I did, feel free to drop me a note.

And please understand that none of this is to take away from the efforts of so many others who are working to rebuild Detroit, because there are many of them and this is not what my little blog entry is all about anyway. Rebuilding Detroit must be a cooperative and collaborative effort involving many partners. But I’m going to stick my neck out and say that when the dust clears? ARISE Detroit will be one among a tiny handful of the major ingredients responsible for the Detroit many of us never believed could actually happen. 



~ by Keith A. Owens on August 6, 2007.

4 Responses to “In Detroit, it’s all about the neighborhoods”

  1. I’m glad the events went well. Luther Keith should be applauded. But there are at least two things going on in Detroit that are more important than Keith’s project. ThinkDetroit (which has now merged with PAL) and Detroit Summer. Keith’s work at best can serve as a compliment to these other projects.

  2. Lester,

    Tell me more about these projects. Any organization that’s involved in helping the city move forward is a good thing. I will concede that Luther’s upstart program is not the only game in town, but I do seriously believe it has the capability to become one of the most influential. In my gut I confess I resist your statement that “at best Keith’s work can serve as a compliment to these other projects” because that sounds a bit demeaning, although that just may be the way I’m interpreting your comments. But either way, if you can give me a web address or just give me a good run down on the programs you mentioned then I can see for myself what you’re saying and why you hold them in such high esteem.

  3. i didn’t mean to demean luther keith’s program. what keith’s work cannot do–because it wasn’t necessarily designed to–is train individuals to both reimagine what cities like detroit are supposed to do (and this is literally revolutionary), and give them the skills needed to do so.

    you really need to read Grace Boggs’ stuff. ALL of it.

    let me know what you think when you do.

  4. Thanks a lot for that recommendation, Lester, and I’ll definitely check out Grace Boggs’ material as you suggested, and then get back to you.

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