This young entrepreneur and lifelong resident of NW Goldberg is modeling neighborhood resilience

On a cold evening in Detroit this winter, Daniel A. Washington sits inside a restaurant downtown as he and his friend, Jordan Yagiela, discuss the many efforts they're making to revitalize the NW Goldberg neighborhood through ORIGINAL CREATIVITY (OC), a 501(c)3 non-profit that Washington founded in 2017. 

Washington leans back in his chair and listens intently to Yagiela, the executive director of the organization who also works at the Detroit Regional Chamber, as she enthusiastically explains the tool library they're looking to build in the neighborhood. 
Original Creativity's board (from left to right): Daniel Washington, Jordan Yagiela, and Michael Lewis II
Yagiela's eyes light up as she describes their plan to create a space where residents in the neighborhood can rent basic tools to repair their homes — tools they currently have to drive upwards of 10 miles to get. The library will be created inside two shipping containers with additional room for a community space intentionally designed to bring the neighborhood together. 

But it's not just about the nuts and bold, literally, of neighborhood revitalization. 

"Did you ever play tetherball as a kid?" Washington asks, sitting up abruptly. He manages to have both an intense and calm delivery. 

"That's all we did when we were younger — play tetherball and four square. These kids [in our neighborhood] don't know anything about it. We just want to bring back things like that."

Though the link between tetherball and neighborhood revitalization might not seem strong at first, having the game in NW Goldberg is just one of many visions the OC team is trying to bring to life.

Bracing for change

OC's mission is to solve pertinent, immediate challenges NW Goldberg residents are facing. Being a lifelong resident of NW Goldberg, Washington says that he's "unofficially" been doing the work of OC his whole life. He started picking up trash, mowing lawns, and bettering the physical appearance of his neighborhood at a young age.

Located on the west side of Detroit with a population of just around 2,000, NW Goldberg has undergone a great deal of disinvestment and abandonment over the last few decades. But it's also nearby the Motown Museum and Henry Ford Hospital and home to Recycle Here! — a city-wide, fully-funded neighborhood recycling program that began in 2005.

These anchor institutions have spurred early signs of the changes to come in NW Goldberg — change that has left many residents wondering when, not if, displacement and gentrification will come to their part of the city.

Homes in NW Goldberg
Washington knows this fear exists, and he and the team at OC have committed themselves to reinvigorating the community while simultaneously increasing property values and amenities to ensure that residents are properly equipped with the knowledge and ability to fully take advantage of what's to come. 

"Economics and financial literacy have always plagued my community," Washington says. "If we can do a better job of educating people, showing them tools and arming them with the knowledge they need — we're not only doing them a service, but we're doing African-Americans in an underserved community in Detroit a service."

"We won't know what they need unless we talk to people" 

The decision to build a tool library was inspired by similar efforts happening in the city, but the OC team didn't add it to their project list until they heard residents of the neighborhood confirm it was something they'd benefit from.

"That's the way we run things," Yagiela, a Farmington Hills native who studied communications at Michigan State University, says. "Especially me, not being born in the area, being a white woman coming into a predominantly African-American neighborhood — I'd never want to say this is what I think you need because I don't have that perspective. We won't know what is needed unless we talk to people."

Original Creativity's founder Daniel Washington and executive director Jordan Yagiela
Another one of its initiatives is a neighborhood garden, which delivered produce directly to 15 families and countless other individuals who hand-picked produce in its first year. 

The garden was due in part to OC's membership with Keep Growing Detroit, who provided them with seeds and seedlings. OC will continue its membership in 2019, and the team also recently partnered with Detroit Hives, who will bring a mason bee house to the garden in the spring of next year to help pollination.

Another initiative, Spaced Repurposed, involves beautifying homes and lots. Their final initiative is an art park, which will be created next year and serve as a safe space and additional beautification project. For each of these projects, OC acquired land from the Detroit Land Bank Authority as a community partner through funding provided by the organization's board members — Washington, Yagiela, and Michael Lewis II. 

Within each of these initiatives, OC implements its three pillars of business, community, and family. The initiatives are living and ever-changing to reflect what the neighborhood collectively decides it needs.

"OC is unique in that way," Washington says. "It truly was founded and is operated to do the work that neighborhood residents want and need."

For example, OC plans to host workshops for residents to learn how to use the tools in its tool library. The organization will also hold community meetings early next year where they'll engage with residents to learn what skills they need to learn and find people to teach them through the workshops.

What's happened and what's to come

Washington is also the co-founder and chief marketing officer of Detroit Dough, a NW Goldberg-based company that makes safe-to-eat cookie dough and benefits the work of OC. Detroit Dough celebrated its one-year anniversary on Nov. 9. In its first year, it sold more than 27,000 cups and donated more than $5,000 to OC. 

OC recently kicked off its Holiday Giving Campaign, with a goal of raising $5,000 before Jan. 1 to support upcoming initiatives. The trio is also planning a unique fundraiser in early 2019 with Brandon Zarb, a local chef who is currently taking a break from the culinary scene. 

Though Washington and Yagiela feel humbled when they receive praise for their work, they know that in order for change to happen, they need residents to work alongside them.

"We need every individual in that neighborhood to go that extra mile," Washington says. "If you don't, then who else will?"

Earlier this summer, OC hosted a community clean-up day where residents of the neighborhood and nearly 60 cadets from the Detroit Police Training Academy cleaned up two lots at the site of the neighborhood garden.

Yagiela says one of the residents had been dumping trash on the two lots they cleaned up as a means to get it picked up quicker. When that resident went to place their trash on the lot after the pick up, another neighbor asked the man what he was doing. 

"'Can't you see they've been cleaning up around here?'" Yagiela says, quoting the neighbor. "People see the work we're collectively doing with neighbors and they're saying, 'you can't just dump stuff anymore.'"

It's moments like these that keep Yagiela and Washington going. 

"This community development life is not sexy. There's been plenty of days where we've been out in the rain or heat, and I hate heat," Washington says. "But you stay out there because you're not only trying to inspire yourself, but everyone around you to look at things differently." 

This article is part of "Detroit Innovation," a series highlighting community-led projects that are improving the vitality of neighborhoods in Detroit, while recognizing the potential of residents to work with partners to solve the most pressing challenges facing their communities.

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.

Photos by Steve Koss
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Read more articles by Kristen Davis.

Kristen Davis is a journalist and 2017-18 Challenge Detroit fellow.