Resilient Neighborhoods: Cody Rouge youth team up with artists to tell a different West Side story

Powerful paintings and murals can be found on buildings all along Detroit’s major streets, from Woodward to Jefferson. But some Detroiters, like 19-year-old Taylin Hodges, are worried they represent only part of a story, and want to see artwork that displays more positivity on the city's walls. 

“The kind of mural that we want to create is something that’s needed in the community,” says Hodges. “Because a lot of times when you see murals, they couldTaylin Hodges be portraying dark things or things that have to do with general things that aren’t quite happy. I want to add more color and more happiness to the community.”

As a member of the Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance's youth council, Hodges will be working to make that happen. The northwest Detroit nonprofit created the council to bring youth who live, work, or attend school or church in the Cody Rouge neighborhood into the area’s revitalization and decision-making.

Last November, CRCAA was awarded a grant from Invest Detroit to spearhead an art mural program that will create eight murals along a stretch of West Warren Avenue. Between 10 and 25 young Detroiters will be paid a stipend to assist with the project, working alongside different local artists as art liaisons; recently they’ve selected their first, Marlo.

A CRCAA mural created by Dr. Lester B. Jordan and Cody Rouge youth. Beautifying West Warren

Members of the youth council first had their interest piqued in neighborhood beautification while participating in the development of the City of Detroit's Cody Rouge & Warrendale Neighborhood Framework. Over the years CRCAA participants have participated in several murals, sculptures, and art projects in the Cody Rouge area with organizations like the College for Creative Studies (CCS). Each time it does a project, the group hasKenyetta Campbell worked with  Detroit-based artists, some of whom are from the Cody Rouge neighborhood itself. Some of this artwork can be found in the St. Suzanne Cody Rouge Community Resource Center and at Rouge Park.  

Through a multi-year partnership with GM, Quicken Loans, the Skillman Foundation, and DTE, CRCAA has also worked on renovations and art projects inside neighborhood schools. CRCAA Director Kenyetta Campbell believes the projects are important for neighborhood pride.

“We wanted to make sure – because our neighborhood is one of those communities that is one of the first neighborhoods that you enter into when you reach the city from the south border and the west border – that it’s vibrant,” she says. “People want to see a welcoming community.”

This is also why Marlo, 34, agreed to take on the implementation of the project. He's glad to see the murals being created for and by Detroiters in and out of the Cody Rouge area. 

“In general, Detroit needs the community's input on certain things," he says. "We Marlolive in a city that’s being gentrified only in certain areas. And they hire a lot of transplant artists from all over the world to do things, and the community has very little say in what’s going on." 

Earlier this month, Marlo met with some of the youth council members who are going to be involved in the project. And he’s taking heed of what they said they want to see. 

“When you look around Detroit, it’s a very gray and bleak landscape,” he explained. “The kids want to see more color, more positive things, and art that’s not just about the trauma of the Black experience. And those are conversations I hear just living in the city, outside of this project.” 

As the son of a painter and a musician, art is second nature to Marlo. The artist first picked up a paintbrush before he was 4, and has been doing so professionally since his early 20s. Working with youth is also something he is no stranger to. Working with both City Year Chicago and the Detroit Pistons’ youth program, Marlo has ample experience uplifting young voices. 

“I’m very community-driven, and this project gives kids in the community an opportunity to use their voice and learn something new,” says Marlo.

Khadijah Harris is one of the young Detroiters with who he’ll be working on CRCAA's West Warren Avenue mural project. 

“[The murals] will brighten the community and allow youth to have a say in what happens, and when they get older they can show their children,” says 19-year-old Harris.Khadijah Harris She's excited to get the art on the walls and says that projects like it are a well-needed change for Detroit, as it highlights positivity in everyday life.

Hodges agrees. 

“I get to work with other youth, to make the community a better place. That’s my favorite part,” she says. The nineteen-year-old is enthusiastic to participate in the project. She had previously been selected to work on another CRCAA mural in late 2019. Unfortunately, that ended up coming to a standstill when the pandemic began. 

“I guess this kind of gives me and my fellow youth council members a chance to see our mural dreams come to life,” Hodges says. 

Both Harris and Hodges want to further pursue art beyond this project. Harris, who draws and paints, also has a graphic design business and wants to host youth art classes. Hodges wants to continue to work on murals as a hobby and one day serve as a youth art instructor. 

Members of CRCAA's youth council at Detroit City Hall. (City of Detroit)More art on the horizon

The West Warren Avenue mural project's participants agree that the effort is about Detroiters having a say in what’s on their walls – something they feel has been lacking in the past. Later this month, and again in March and April, CRCAA will be hosting meetings to ask community members what they’d like to see in the murals. 

“We want to make sure that young people voice their concerns, and we want to open it up to the residents to also highlight what type of art they would like to see in the neighborhood,” says Campbell. “Being able, not only to select the artists, but also being able to co-design the actual murals and be a part of implementation is very important, because it shows ownership of the project.” 

CRCAA expects all eight of the murals to be completed in September. After that, they’ll start focusing on another new project. When that time comes, Campbell is prepared to welcome even more creative minds with open arms. 

“We have a lot of younger kids already registering for our program […] and a lot of them are artists," says Campbell. "So we want to make sure that we continue to expose them and connect them to other artists, so that they have a pathway to art.”

Resilient Neighborhoods is a reporting and engagement series that examines how Detroit residents and community development organizations are working together to strengthen local neighborhoods. It's made possible with funding from the Kresge Foundation.

Read more articles by Kyla L. Wright.