Voices of Cody Rouge: three lessons from our time in the neighborhood

It was during a homily at St. Suzanne-Our Lady Gate of Heaven church when Father Victor Clore implored his parishioners to, "be a light unto the world," that it hit me. There is something special about Cody Rouge that comes from a place of spiritual depth. "That's an awesome responsibility," Father Clore said, "But, that's who we are." 

It is who they are. 

The success of Cody Rouge comes from faith. A very real faith in the pure potential of the neighborhood and the people who comprise it. It is this faith that has been the driving force of Kenyetta Campbell, the executive director of the Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance, and allowed her to motivate and engage her neighbors as well as funders like General Motors, Quicken Loans, and IFF. Campbell has translated her faith into capable leadership. 

While Detroit experiences a remarkable resurgence in downtown and Midtown led by developers and business leaders, the outer neighborhoods will require the strength and vision of its citizens. This is exemplified in Cody Rouge. 

Upon beginning to write this series about Cody Rouge, there was little that I knew about the neighborhood. While I am a native Detroiter, I lived out of state for nearly a decade. Further, while I too lived on the westside of the city, Cody still seemed far. The neighborhood, located on the far west side, wasn't one where I shopped, traveled, or even had friends. 

I wasn't alone. The neighborhood was accustomed to being forgotten about. At an initial editorial meeting, Barb Matney of the Warrendale Community Organization said it best: "When you're a neighborhood that has been forgotten for so long, you learn to depend on each other because you realize you're all you have."

The collaborative nature of the leadership in the area is just one of the many valuable lessons that I have taken away from my time in Cody Rouge. Here are three more that stand out most and which the rest of the city can learn from. 

1. Youth engagement is key

On October 20, 2018, residents and friends of Cody Rouge will come together to build a KaBoom! playground at Stein Park on W. Chicago. KaBoom! is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure that all kids get a childhood filled with the balanced and active play needed to thrive.

Cody Rouge was one of 11 grants awarded in the state of Michigan to community groups to build a youth-centered play space. The entire project was designed for and by the kids of the neighborhood. This is especially significant for a neighborhood with one of the largest populations of youth under 18 in the city. 

A tent for Children's activities, called the Children's Village, at the D-Town Farms Harvest Festival
Moreover, the city of Detroit hired an urban design studio to facilitate the development of a youth-led neighborhood plan. Eventual designs will focus around creating a safe and healthy neighborhood for children and families. 

"We're developing a community master plan with children, youth, and millennials actually leading," Campbell says. "So often, you go to a community meeting and everyone is 60-plus years old. We want to make sure that the neighborhood has things that the people who will be living here long term want to see. If youth are the future of Cody Rouge, we want to give them the things they want to see right now." 

Another goal of the planning process is to make Cody Rouge a "20-minute neighborhood" — a place where residents can easily walk or bike to amenities. The initiative would also add beautification projects like developing wildflower meadows to vacant green spaces and add protected bike lanes.

2. Make safety a priority

There are five neighborhood radio patrols in Cody Rouge. The future of safety in Cody Rouge will mean more collaboration between the five patrols with the support of CompStat at Wayne State University. Using this strategic data-driven collaborative management process, Cody Rouge has access to information technology and operational strategy to identify and neutralize "hot spots" in the community. 

Car in the South Warrendale Radio Patrol
The CompStat approach focuses on persistent crime areas and emerging crime patterns to switch from a reactive to a proactive approach to preventing crime. For Campbell, the bottom line of safety in Cody Rouge means "making sure that senior citizens and children in the neighborhoods have safe passage to and from places where they need to go, like stores and schools."

3. Homeownership equals empowerment 

Detroit has suffered as much as any city in the country from home foreclosures. And Cody Rouge has suffered as much as any neighborhood in Detroit. 

"In 2009, when the stock market crashed, Cody Rouge had some of the highest number of foreclosed homes in the country," Campbell says.

But the neighborhood has placed a big emphasis on homeownership. Recently, it's fostered a partnership with National Faith HomeBuyers to redevelop Detroit Land Bank Authority-owned homes with funding and technical support from Quicken Loans. 

In addition, Cody Rouge has participated in the Front Porch Repair Project, also supported by Quicken Loans, to repair and beautify front porches in the neighborhood. 

"Our goal is retain citizens," Campbell says. "But I also envision attracting back some Cody alumni who may have moved on to what they saw as greener pastures. To them I say, 'Now is the perfect time to come on home.'" 

This article is part of "Voices of Cody Rouge," a series that showcases the authentic stories of residents, community stakeholders, and local organizations helping to create and shape positive transformation in the Cody Rouge neighborhood of Detroit. This series is made possible with support from Quicken LoansIFF, and the Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance

Photos by Nick Hagen

Read more articles by Biba Adams.

Biba Adams is a Detroit-based writer whose work has been published in Ebony Magazine, Revolt, AllHipHop.com and more. Find her on all social channels @BibatheDiva.
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