How two women in Detroit neighborhoods are bridging the city’s divide
In Detroit, places like Downtown, Midtown, and Corktown are undergoing major changes. Investment is flowing, and an influx of white residents are moving in. In these areas, there are plenty of new businesses, restaurants, and other amenities. But that isn’t the case in many of the city’s older neighborhoods, where the population remains majority African-American.
Rose Gorman and Sonia Brown are both working to help close the gap between these “two Detroits.”
Gorman lives and works at The Tuxedo Project on the city's west side. When Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Stephen Henderson found the house he grew up in on Tuxedo Street abandoned in 2012, he turned the space into a creative writing center. As the Resident Fellow, Gorman leads classes for teenagers and adults, facilitates reading and discussion groups, and helps pass out books from the library.
"The Tuxedo Project kind of acts as a community center more than a literary center,” explained Gorman.
Brown — known to many as "Auntie Na" — works with the Kresge Foundation and Wayne State University. She has created a health clinic, food pantry, clothing distribution center, and tutoring center called "Auntie Na's House." The “village,” as Brown refers to it, is on Yellowstone Street on Detroit's west side.
“Our programs are community-based. It started off with just trying to help some of the young mothers in the community with day-to-day living and responsibilities: clothes and food," Brown said.
Now, the program helps in a variety of ways including babysitting children, providing educational opportunities, and holding meet and greets for neighbors.
Brown’s work started off in the home where her grandparents raised her. She is now raising grandchildren in the same home, after raising her own children there.
“So when I say I’ve been generationally embedded on that cornerstone of Yellowstone, my roots are as deep as many of those old trees that still stand there on that cornerstone of Yellowstone,” she said.
The neighborhood where Brown lives was once considered an upper-middle class area. Today, she says the area is filled primarily with abandoned houses and closed schools. A few streets over on Tuxedo Street, the situation is much the same.
“This idea of two Detroits is so big. It’s a really big deal,” said Gorman. When her creative writing classes are held in Midtown or Downtown, she said people from the west side community don’t come. Gorman says some of that has to do with not having access to transportation, but she says there is also the belief that the programming held in these areas is not meant for them.
Brown says that sentiment is common in her neighborhood.
“For the most part, many of us feel displaced. We feel like the city that we once had a place in has displaced us, has left us behind, has not so much as included us as they’d like to think they had.”
Brown says the work she and Gorman are doing is a good start on bridging that divide.