On the ground and running

And we're off: On the Ground, our new summer series, kicked off last Thursday at the Benjamin Franklin branch of the Detroit Public Library with a meeting of a few dozen people who care deeply about the Osborn Neighborhood. We left with a few dozen story ideas for the coming weeks in Model D.

The Franklin Branch is a modest building that was constructed in 1950 as "the first of the Detroit Public Library's functionally designed modern branches." Its functionality proved perfect as our first venue for a public discussion of On the Ground. Not only did we draw a great group of people working hard to make Osborn a better place thanks to the connections made by the people at the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance, but we also had some library patrons join in and tell us what excites them about the neighborhood.

As those in attendance introduced themselves to the group, one young man spoke up saying, "I come to the library because I like it." The library, an integral piece of the social fabric in Osborn, has earned such praise thanks to the hard work of staff like Mary Jo Vortkamp, Branch Manager and librarian at Franklin.

"We listen to our customers and the kids," says Vortkamp. "It's a challenging time for every public institution in the country, but the Detroit Public Library has allowed us to be flexible." The listening and flexibility is shown in the items that the Franklin Branch purchases for patrons, such as their outstanding collection of urban fiction. It even extends to their programming. During our meeting, a group of kids came in to make slime, which was the idea of one of Franklin's young patrons.

Despite its modest stature, the Franklin Branch has the third best circulation numbers in the entire DPL system. "We're tiny, but mighty," says Mary Jo Vortkamp.

Eschewing the negative stories we often hear coming out of Northeast Detroit, Quincy Jones of the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance got the meeting started by saying, "Today is exciting because we can start to tell our story." The people present had plenty of inspiring work and innovative approaches to Osborn's challenges to share with us throughout the meeting.

Andrea Perkins shared with us that her organization, Benevolent, has recently expanded to Osborn, where they are using a crowdfunding platform to provide financial assistance for one time needs of families in the neighborhood.

Pat Bosh of Nortown CDC and Karen Washington of Restore Northeast Detroit told us about a resident driven planning process they are leading for the entirety of City Council District 3. Restore NED is using the same framework developed by the Community Development Advocates of Detroit that we reported on in a recent feature on the "Restore the 'Moor" initiative in Brightmoor.

Todd Scott of the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance shared with us some exciting new developments regarding the Conner Creek Greenway, which runs through Osborn and is now being expanded up Van Dyke to 9 and ½ Mile Road in Warren. His organization is lobbying Governor Snyder to include the Conner Creek Greenway in his recently proposed trail system that would connect Detroit and Wisconsin. "Hopefully soon you will see a sign on the greenway in Osborn that says '900 Miles to Wisconsin,'" said Scott.

Osborn power couple Daryl and Wytrece Harris, pastors at the Total Life Christian Church within the Matrix Center across the street from the library, told us of a whole slew of projects they are working on, including the Osborn Business Association, the Detroit Ceasefire Clergy, and the Osborn College Access Network, to name a few.

In addition to many of the community's adult leaders, we were also joined by several representatives of youth leadership in the neighborhood. A few recent graduates of Osborn High who recently finished their first years of college told us about some of the youth programs that helped them excel in Osborn.

These include Neighborhood Services Organization's Youth Initiatives Project (NSO YIP) headed by Frank McGhee, who was present at the meeting. NSO YIP is "designed to encourage youth activism and peer-to-peer collaboration, as a means of improving the capacity of neighborhood and community organizations." The several youth representatives of YIP and current students in Osborn inspired the attendees with their dedication to civic engagement in the neighborhood.

Taijn Robinson, an Osborn High student with a deep voice expressing maturity beyond his years, told us about the Youth Connection, a program he participates in that lines up Osborn youth with internships at institutions around the city and prepares them for careers with trainings on things like resume writing. Osborn High sophomore Timberlery Williams told us about her extensive community service through an organization called Build On, through which she recently was able to take a volunteer trip to Nepal.

We at Model D have a lot of work ahead of us to keep you informed about all of these stories and events to come as we continue our work On the Ground. There is some unique energy emanating from Osborn.

Please follow us on Tumblr and Instagram for more updates.

To suggest a story or inform us of something happening in Osborn, send a note to [email protected]. You can also stop in to the offices of the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance at the Matrix Center at 13560 E McNichols Rd during our office hours on Wednesdays and Fridays or just leave us a note.
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Read more articles by Matthew Lewis.

Matthew Lewis is a writer and former managing editor of Model D. He's currently the communications officer for the New Economy Initiative.