"We Are Not Victims"
We often hear that the violence that too often shakes Detroit has left everyone paralyzed and confused, that nobody seems willing to step up and deal with the bloodshed that claims our children, our elders and everyone in between.
But I ran across a few items recently that serve to remind us all that there are plenty of people around here who do step it up, in ways great and small, to address the killing and to save lives. In the past few days alone, we've seen some noteworthy grassroots undertakings to grapple with violence in Detroit:
For starters, there's the effort by a neighborhood group on the eastside to help safeguard local women in the wake of the discovery of several females corpses in the community. While some residents fear the worst — that a serial killer may be stalking the neighborhood — the police say there's no evidence to support that notion. But whether its a lone killer or a gang of them, serial or random, the larger point is that women are dying and being dumped throughout the neighborhood, and, rather than wait for others to take notice, residents are sounding a loud alarm.
Members of the City Airport Renaissance Association, a community organization, are knocking on doors and passing out flyers to households today warning that the bodies of at least eight women have been discovered in the area in the past year.
"We're not going to stop living and be stuck in our own homes," said Joyce Johnson, a spokeswoman for CARA, but she added that women need to take "extra precautions."
She could also be describing the spirit of others around town.
Like students at schools like Denby High, who are banding together in advance of summer vacation to develop ideas about violence prevention.
Or local activists and students at Trix Elementary School, who will unveil "The Quilt for Peace," a giant covering decorated with an assortment of colorful patches designed by about 40 classmates of Aiyana Stanley-Jones, the 7-year-old girl fatally shot by a Detroit police officer during a raid on her home last month.
When I hear about the quilt project from a friend, I call up Sandra Hines, a noted community organizer who has worked with the children, business sponsors and local artists to pull the project together. The children created the designs and local artists added them to the quilt, Hines tells me. Bus company Safeway Transportation (which recently had its contract with the Detroit schools renewed after a drawn-out controversy) is sponsoring the initiative. "There are hearts, buildings, scene of the city, trees, flowers," says Hines, co-chairperson of the Coalition to Restore Hope to DPS. "The theme is the city and how we can transform the city to an environment of peace."
But the art project also carries a deeper purpose, she reveals: "Since the little girl was killed, we wanted to work with her classmates, to help them with grieving as well as to take the opportunity to use it as a conflict mediation moment. We had a chance to talk about peace, how to solve our problems together. And as we talked about it, the kids worked on the quilt."
Taken alone, of course, no single program will turn the waves of violence that so often crash onto our city. But even the smallest of these acts lets us know yet again that Detroiters aren't just giving in to the worst of what ails us, aren't simply being steamrolled by circumstance and sadness and desperation. Further, each action has the capacity to build on its own momentum, to sweep up others in its wake and further heighten our collective consciousness. At least, I hope so.
Like Joyce, Hines could be summing up the spirit of all of these acts, and others, as she explains the attitude driving her group (which she says is also planning community projects in the name of 17-year-old Je'Rean Blake, allegedly killed by the man the police sought the night they raided Aiyana's home).
"We aren't Detroiters who are waiting around for someone to come in here and do something for us," Hines tells me. "We will take a stand. We aren't helpless.
"We are not victims."