How Congress of Communities' youth-led center could be a model for collaborative, inclusive design

Southwest Detroit teen Stephanie Segura was looking for ways to expand her knowledge on issues of race and ethnicity.

That’s when she found the Youth Council of Congress of Communities, a resident-led organizing and advocacy group in Southwest Detroit.

“For so long I was accustomed to accepting stereotypes of Latinx communities,” says the senior at Detroit Cristo Rey, especially in the current politically polarized climate. “When I joined this youth council I learned it was not OK to feel OK with [negative stereotypes] and that it was OK to stand up.”

Segura is a part of the task force leading the effort to create and design a youth-led, inclusive community space on St. Hedwig Street near Junction in Southwest Detroit. The idea was born nearly two years ago during a retreat where Congress of Communities youths realized a need for a space of their own.

Congress of Communities received a $150,000 Kresge Innovative Projects: Detroit grant last year to go toward planning as well as stipends for Youth Council members and purchasing the house. But the house needs to be gutted and redone, says Executive Director Maria Salinas, who estimates about $100,000 worth of work to bring the youth-led center to reality. Some of the KIP:D grant will go toward the work, but Salinas says Congress of Communities needs to raise about $30,000-$40,000 more. If all goes according to plan, the center will be ready by fall 2020.

Some of the features of the house include office space for Congress of Communities, which is renting space on Vernor Highway; a kitchen; open community space; resources for youth such as art and technology; and an environmentally friendly design. These are all features that the youths are advocating for in the space.

For Salinas, a community organizer, the center has been a longtime goal. She hopes the collaborative, inclusive design process and the center can be a model for other spaces in the neighborhood.

“If you cultivate young people, they can take over the work,” she says. “The house would be the safe space that we would cultivate ... [for] leadership development.”

“Projects, programs, and initiatives go away. And usually the workers go away with that, but if you invest in residents, they stay. And then you got longevity because if they buy into it, they'll take care of it. They'll cultivate it, they'll build it, they'll be part of it. So that's kind of what I'm hoping to build and track and make it a model.”


Read more articles by Dorothy Hernandez.

Dorothy Hernandez is a freelance writer and editor who frequently writes about food at the intersection of culture and business. She has contributed to NPR, Midwest Living magazine, Eater, and a variety of other publications. Visit her website and follow her on Twitter @dorothy_lynn_h.
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