Ronald Cannon's Cardinal Foundation clears the way for a safer Detroit for west-side kids

Diane Myrick, a west-side Detroit resident, is sweeping up fallen branches off the street.


She has lived in Detroit all her life and had been hearing about an organization called The Cardinal Foundation that for over a year that was fighting blight. So she showed up to a volunteer day on a recent Saturday to see what it was all about.


“I’ve met a lot of nice people. I want to be involved more,” she says.


Myrick is worried about the blight problem in her neighborhood, and how it affects the neighborhood kids. The problem has made her and others much more vigilant.


“I hope to see that people buy up the houses, if not tear the ones down that are unfixable. I want to be involved in whatever’s coming, whatever developments gonna happen,” she says. “We need some help down here. We have one block with no houses at all, just abandoned. We’re trying to keep our eyes open.”


Sampson-Weber Leadership Academy is located at 4700 Tireman Ave. on the city’s west side. Many students often walk to and from school, but often, the many unkempt, blighted properties that line the streets pose a public safety hazard for the youth. Recent reports of kids getting pulled into vacant houses sent shockwaves in the neighborhood.

Cardinal Foundation volunteers. Photo courtesy Ronald Cannon.


So, on the corner of Firwood and Pacifica, a small but mighty crew of kids and adults rolled up their sleeves and got to work on a muggy Saturday afternoon. The cloudy conditions did not deter the residential volunteers from trimming branches that obstructed the sidewalk and sweeping up scattered leaves from the cracked pavement. The group filled up numerous trash bags with debris.

Blighted and vacant properties have been a source of consternation for residents for a long time. Mayor Mike Duggan recently announced a multimillion-dollar bond proposal to remediate blight throughout the city by mid-2020, although this plan has been met with its fair share of critics. A recent University of Michigan study found that removing blight led to crime reduction.

This cleanup effort to beautify this block on was organized by The Cardinal Foundation as part of their Sidewalk Matters for Detroit Initiative, supported by City Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez. Founded in 2017 by lifelong west-side resident Ronald Cannon, The Cardinal Foundation is committed to revitalizing Detroit’s neighborhoods block by block through street cleaning projects that address threats to public safety.


Grilling up hot dogs and rocking The Cardinal Foundation's signature red and gray colors and gear, Cannon’s soft-spoken joy is infectious. He happily feeds the volunteers who’ve built up an appetite after several hours of labor. He also doesn’t shy away from the spotlight. In his spare time, Cannon moonlights as Santa Claus each Christmas. Giving back is in his blood.


Cannon founded The Cardinal Foundation after his mother, Marion, passed away. Starting the organization was a way for him to continue her legacy of community work.


“My mom passed of cancer. She actually died in my arms,” he says. “So that was like a shockwave. Everything she ever taught me was brought out much, much more. She did a lot in the community. And so I just took up the mantle.”


One of the community volunteers is Cannon’s nephew Frank Rayford, a popular figure among local kids. He shared his concerns for the youth in the neighborhood as he spent the afternoon clearing the sidewalk paths.


“I like doing good positive things for the community. We’re trying to change what’s going on because there’s a lot of craziness,” Rayford says. “We don’t want nothing to happen to the kids. So we can cut the bushes down so we can have a safe environment for the kids. We’re trying to make the community a better place.”


The Cardinal Foundation has also teamed up with the local police department in the 10th precinct and firefighters to hold events. Cannon hopes to encourage youth to join law enforcement, which he says would better serve the community.


“As you know, there’s been a lot of problems with run-ins with officers. We want to get kids who are from their own areas to get involved in public safety,” he says.

Cardinal Foundation volunteers. Photo courtesy Ronald Cannon.


Cannon’s hopes for The Cardinal Foundation are ambitious. He hopes to have clothing drives and feed to the neighborhood kids. He graduated from a leadership program through Castaneda-Lopez’s office that provided networking opportunities and trainings for local nonprofits and businesses to help keep their visions moving forward and sustainable.


Right now, The Cardinal Foundation is fully volunteer-supported but that’s about to change. Cannon says the organization just received 501c3 status and now he’s looking to apply for foundation grants to sustain The Cardinal Foundation’s work. It’s an important first step to securing The Cardinal Foundation’s future, Cannon says.


There are still a lot of blocks in need of a cleanup by The Cardinal Foundation’s brigade of volunteers. But today is a win, and Cannon is invested at the moment. Looking proudly at the cleared up sidewalk, he revels in how just a few hands can have a sizeable impact.

The series is supported by the New Economy Initiative, a project of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan that's working to create an inclusive, innovative regional culture.

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