On the Ground: Panel discussion recapped

This week's issue contains our final dispatches from Brightmoor as On the Ground moves on in the new year. It's been inspiring--not to mention fun--meeting the people working to build community in that neighborhood.

On Wednesday, Dec. 11, a group of Brightmoor residents and people from around the region gathered at the Brightmoor Community Center for a neighborhood Speaker Series event. They came to hear from a group of neighborhood leaders who discussed their experiences in Brightmoor and shared lessons that can inform what others are doing in their communities.

Wayne Ramocan, Program Coordinator at the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance (our partner for the previous installment of On the Ground), moderated the panel composed of people we have covered in recent issues of Model D and UIX for the work they are leading in Brightmoor. They were:

Kirk Mayes - Executive Director of the Brightmoor Alliance
Riet Schumack - Co-founder of Neighbors Building Brightmoor & Knuckle Head Farm
Rev. Larry Simmons - President of the Brightmoor Pastors Alliance, Pastor at Baber A.M.E. church
Bart Eddy - Co-founder of Detroit Community Schools and the Brightmoor Woodworkers
Dennis Talbert - Executive Director of the Brightmoor Community Center
Dawn Wilson-Clark - Community Connections Grant Program, Kuddles the Hip Hop Clown, Patton Pioneers

The conversation, while filled with anecdotes from panelists' individual experiences in Brightmoor, was forward-looking. That was a criterion of ours when setting up this discussion. If, in fact, it had been otherwise, panelist Larry Simmons wouldn't have shown up. "I've said this before, but I'm done going to meetings where all people do is describe problems," he told the audience.

The evening was full of memorable quotations about what it takes to make grassroots change in challenged but resilient neighborhoods in Detroit like Brightmoor.

Kirk Mayes, executive director of the Brightmoor Alliance, emphasized the importance of collaboration, a major theme of the evening,  in achieving success in Brightmoor. Gesturing at his fellow panelists, Mayes remarked, "Their dreams are my dreams. My vision is to see all of their visions working together." He urged the audience to value the dreams of friends, neighbors, and collaborators. "Take the time to let them share their dreams with you," he said.

Vision was another big theme of the evening. "Step out on your vision," said Larry Simmons, who pointed to his co-panelists and talked about how each one of them began acting on their vision, often in isolation, before others would join in. He told everyone about Riet Schumack's experience on her block in Brightmoor, picking up trash by herself every day for a year before others joined her. Visit that block and those surrounding it today and it is clear that a mutual respect and sense of ownership of the neighborhood has grown among neighbors there.

Money is always an issue when trying to execute a vision, but Dennis Talbert urged audience members not to get too hung up on money. "Money is never enough to achieve vision. If you have a vision, do what you have to do and do it well," he said. "Do the work well and the funders will come. When I look at what's going on in Brightmoor, when we really start doing things right and doing it well, the funders will find us. Just do the work."

Riet Schumack emphasized that doing community work well isn't something that should or can be done alone. "If we want to do well, we need to train each other to do well," sahe said. The organization she founded with neighbors, Neighbors Building Brightmoor, offers a project management class to all of its volunteers who are interested with the hope of elevating them to leadership roles.

Dawn Wilson-Clark encouraged the crowd to not write off neighbors whom we assume have no interest in contributing to our communities. She told the story of a woman whom she had chastised for yelling at her children. Wilson-Clark then went on with her normal activities in the neighborhood garden plot. After some time, the woman whom she had chastised approached her and asked if she could help in the garden. "We don't know who will become the leader," said Wilson-Clark. "We have to care about people. We cannot be afraid."

As the discussion concluded, panelists and participants hung around to discuss the issues brought up by the panelists and simply get to know each other better. Hopefully we've begun something with On the Ground--building community among neighborhoods and people all across the city. Follow Model D and On the Ground in the new year to learn about more events like this one.

Matthew Lewis is project editor for Model D's On the Ground series, which spent time in the Osborn and Brightmoor neighborhood in 2013.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

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.