This Detroit coalition hopes to boost efforts with community inquiry

As pastor of City Covenant Church, a small church in the Brightmoor neighborhood of Detroit, Pastor Semmeal Thomas has previously had difficulty mobilizing resources to help his congregation and the community at large. Then, about ten years ago, Thomas started working with an organization called the Brightmoor Alliance. The collaboration would help her church community center, Mission: City, are taking their efforts to serve local residents to the next level.

“We are constantly working with the Brightmoor Alliance,” says Thomas. “If anyone needs a meal, they’ll refer them to City Covenant Church. They sent us funding sources. They sent us volunteers. They used their platform to market the things we did. have done. ”

The Brightmoor Alliance intends to ask how it can best serve the neighborhood and organizations like its own, according to Thomas. And the impact they have had is amplified by the thoughtful deliberations the alliance takes in doing its work. In 2012, the alliance carried out a needs assessment called Restore the ‘Moor which has helped City Covenant Church and other partners better target their support efforts.

“Often we don’t have data [about the neighborhood], and the Brightmoor Alliance brings these resources to our community, ”says Thomas.

This assessment helped Thomas broaden his knowledge of the neighborhood and develop new programs in areas such as financial literacy and career development.

Today, the Brightmoor Alliance and Mission: City are stronger than ever thanks to this work. And the coalition continues to work in partnership with local groups and residents to improve the local neighborhood, while undertaking a new community survey.

Gather Brightmoor

Founded in 2000 to address issues such as high crime and vacant land, the Brightmoor Alliance is now a coalition of over 50 local organizations dedicated to serving their local community. Rev. Larry Simmons, pastor of Baber Memorial AME Church is the organization’s executive director.

Now a predominantly black neighborhood, Brightmoor is a place foreigners sometimes associate with rusting, high crime and abandoned homes. With a average household income slightly above the poverty line at $ 36,135 (according to 2010 census estimates) residents faced both negative associations and income challenges. To help address these concerns, the Brightmoor Alliance acts as a facilitator and gap filler that connects the neighborhood to resources.

“Our driving ethic is that people have power. Not that they are given power, but they are power, ”says Simmons. “We facilitate and recognize the use of this power.”

One of the ways the alliance helped facilitate this neighborhood power was to form a gardening network. In collaboration with 31 neighborhood club partners, he identified people interested in being part of the network and distributed materials for the construction of raised beds as well as flower and vegetable seeds. Today, the gardening group is responsible for 135 flower gardens and nearly 40 community gardens.

Trena Ross is one of the block club leaders who have been involved in the gardening effort. A resident of the neighborhood since 2012, she began attending Brightmoor Alliance community meetings soon after moving to the area. After finding out that the alliance was helping to create block clubs, she decided to start one in her own block.

“The Brightmoor area where I live had a lot of vacant lots and a lot of run down houses, so I thought it would be good to come together to get things done,” says Ross.

Her positive experiences in this community work with the Brightmoor Alliance eventually led her to join the staff of the organization as a Community Organizing Specialist. She is now heavily involved in the alliance’s monthly food distribution program, which takes place at Gompers elementary-middle school and helps organizations like Mission: City feed hundreds of people each week.

Walk the wisdom of Brightmoor

However, the Brightmoor Alliance does not rest on its achievements alone. He also looks to the residents to see how he can improve his job. In an effort to capitalize on the impact that Restore the ‘Moor had about the community in 2011, the Brightmoor Alliance is currently conducting a new community survey called the Brightmoor Wisdom Project.

“This is part of our work at the Brightmoor Alliance and others who want to help the community concentrate its power,” said Simmons.

The new investigative effort focuses on four main areas: food, which deals with both quality and availability; shelter, which will cover both access to land and peace in the community; Clothes; And hope. Since April 2021, the alliance has been recruiting volunteers, consulting with the community, and researching Restore the ‘Moor, which they call “revisiting the vision”. The main objectives of the Wisdom Project are to identify the activities that the community identifies as essential and to help the community to “concentrate its power”. This is something that the organization certainly has previous experience with.

For example, a few years ago the community recognized that a lot of school-aged children were in the neighborhood during the day when they should be in school. Brightmoor Alliance took this information and worked with 482 Forward, a Detroit-based educational justice network, to organize and advocate at the city and state levels for the issue of chronic absence in Brightmoor.

And at a community meeting at Leland Baptist Church, residents discussed their concerns about early childhood development, saying they wanted to be more active in their children’s developmental growth outside of school. . Brightmoor Alliance has launched the ‘six a day’ project, which targets six things parents should do with their children every day: cheer and hug, read and talk, sing and play.

“Someone informed me the other day that he was now being promoted overseas. In Germany, they took over the six-a-day project and they are reproducing our six-a-day in German, ”explains Simmons. “It started in Brightmoor… that’s why Project Wisdom is so important; it stems from our consultation and interaction with the community.

Volunteers working on the Brightmoor Wisdom Project were divided into teams based on one of the four areas of the survey. They collect information, or “wisdom,” in a variety of ways, including social media posts, resident interviews, and public meetings. Other tasks include: writing grant applications, arranging meetings, and inviting others to participate. Volunteers do not need to be residents, as the alliance is also open to help from community allies.

At present, the progress of the Brightmoor Wisdom Project has been delayed since early November, in part due to the sudden death of local community leader Jonathon Clark. But surveying efforts are expected to resume this month.

Based on the alliance’s tentative timeline, a project-based report is expected to be completed in April this year. Simmons is looking forward to this moment, so he and other local leaders can learn more about what concerns residents.

“The community has wisdom,” he says. “And if leaders and decision-makers just consulted the wisdom of the community, it could go a long way.”

Resilient Neighborhoods is a feature story and engagement series that examines how Detroit residents and community development organizations work together to strengthen local neighborhoods. This is made possible by funding from the Kresge Foundation.

About Michael C. Lovelace

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