Community development organizations in Detroit are getting smarter. The Community Development Advocates of Detroit
(CDAD), which is a sort of trade association for over one hundred community development organizations throughout the city, is reorganizing itself into seven caucuses that align with Detroit's new City Council Districts
. These geographies were the result of a charter rewrite and a popular vote to change the structure of City Council elections to district-based representation for the first time since 1918. Proponents hope that this change will give many neighborhood residents a voice that has long been absent in downtown politics.
This week, we begin a monthly series that looks at emerging leadership and progressive community development strategies occurring in CDAD's new caucuses. For our first feature we hit the streets to investigate the happenings in the Northeast Detroit caucus (Council District 3), where the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance
is working hard to improve the neighborhood in the heart of that district.
Quincy Jones, the 40-year-old executive director of the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance, is magnetic. His positivity and passion are constant. As you enter his office, you notice piles of the Osborn Voice, which Jones describes as the best community newsletter in the city, a fact hard to dispute (it's only available in print, though, so stop by 13560 E. McNichols to pick up a copy). A handful of sapling trees donated by the CSX Railroad stand in the corner, awaiting residents (one of whom stopped by during my interview) to pick them up.
Jones grew up in Osborn, then headed off to Michigan State University. After college he joined the Peace Corps and served in Mali. When he returned stateside, he went to New York, going to work for some large companies including Campbell's Soup and Coca Cola. Eventually he returned to Detroit and got his MBA at Lawrence Tech, then decided to enter the community development field and joined the organization serving the area in which he grew up.
The Osborn Neighborhood Alliance was born out of the Skillman Foundation's Good Neighborhoods
initiative, which launched in 2006. Before the organization's creation, Jones says the neighborhood lacked a brand. Now everybody seems to be embracing the Osborn identity, which derives its name from the public high school that is a well-known landmark and center of activity in the neighborhood.
The Osborn Alliance's advocates for all things positive happening in the neighborhood, what Jones refers to as "neighborhood infrastructure," but Jones feels the most critical work the Alliance does in the neighborhood relates to education. "We have one of the highest proportions of school age children in the city," says Jones.
That's why the Alliance is working with two schools in the area, Osborn High School and Brenda M. Scott Middle School, to establish a Parent Mentor Program modelled on the famed program
of the same name in the Logan Square Neighborhood of Chicago. The program intends to actually put parents in the schools to assist teachers, thus getting them more involved in the education process.
The Alliance rehabbed and now maintains four neighborhood parks: Calimera, Josefiak, Manning-Beland, and Marruso. The parks had fallen into disrepair (click here
to see a before picture of Beland-Manning park), so the Alliance and community volunteers stepped up. "We heard stories from people about how they had gotten married in the park," said Jones, showing how truly important these spaces have been to residents. The Alliance has an excellent relationship with the Greening of Detroit
, which planted 471 trees in the parks and along streets in Osborn last year.
As I talked to Jones about this work, a man at the table next to us chimed in to tell us that the Osborn soccer team wins the Detroit City Futbol League's prized trophy every year. He wasn't talking about the Copa Detroit, which is awarded to the tournament champion, but rather the community service award
, which the Osborn team won for their volunteerism in the Osborn neighborhood. The man turned out to be Scott Benson, a City Council hopeful for District 3 who lives in the neighborhood and plays for the soccer team.
The Osborn Alliance is embedded within the facilities owned and run by Matrix Human Services
, a 107-year-old organization with three locations around Detroit that provide educational programs and recreational opportunities for neighborhood youth and service the basic needs of families, feeding 1,000 of them each month.
Jones describes the center on E. McNichols between Schoenherr and Gratiot as a community development "home depot." The only difference is that this place has character. Jones took me through the basement space where students from College for Creative Studies teach art classes to neighborhood kids, then showed me the newly-renovated gym where a pickup game was underway, then the church space rented by a local congregation. They even have a barbershop on premises. DuJuan Irby owns the shop and cuts hair there. Quincy is one of his loyal customers.
Leaving the center, Jones took me on a tour of the neighborhood to give me an idea of the wholistic approach the Osborn Alliance takes toward community development. Everywhere we went, Quincy greeted residents and told me about things they were doing to better the community.
We stopped by a building that was once a Dairy Queen. A resident was painting it in preparation for its re-opening this summer as a neighborhood ice cream stand. We stopped at the Osborn community garden, where a resident was prepping the raised beds for the fast approaching growing season. We went to the Benjamin Franklin Branch
of the Detroit Public Library, with whom the Alliance partners to provide information services to residents.
Jones pointed out a few of the neighborhoods hallmark businesses like the Belair 10
, Detroit's only mainstream neighborhood movie theater, and Capers Steak by the Ounce
, a classic Detroit steakhouse selling, well, steaks by the ounce. The Osborn Neighborhood Alliance recently launched the Osborn Business Association
, headed by Business Outreach Coordinator DeJuan Vann, who, along with Quincy do everything in their power to promote neighborhood businesses. Most recently, VILLA
, a national urban apparel and footwear store opened in Osborn on East 7 Mile.
While the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance and Matrix Human Services are making a huge impact on the neighborhood, Osborn struggles with many of the challenges found in neighborhoods in Detroit.
Crime and high incidences of foreclosure and blight are major issues. When asked if he ever gets tired out by the challenges in the neighborhood, Quincy Jones paused, then said, "Yeah, sometimes." But seconds later he was back to his high-energy self, pointing out more positive elements of the neighborhood. Jones believes in the power of citizens to make and be the change.
"We're not just waiting on a superman," he says. "We are superman."
Matthew Lewis is reporting from all city council districts from now until the November General Election.
All photos by Matthew Lewis