Detroit’s massive, annual community service event known as “ARISE Detroit! Neighborhoods Day,” returns for another year of bringing together community groups, block clubs, churches and volunteers to improve and beautify the city and show the pride residents have in their neighborhoods. The event will be held August 6 this year.
Ahead of the event, “American Black Journal” host Stephen Henderson talks with ARISE Detroit! Executive Director Luther Keith about the improvement projects, resource fairs, concerts and art festivals on tap for this year’s event. Plus, Keith announces a major collaboration with the Detroit Public Schools Community District to beautify the district’s schools.
Stephen Henderson: Sixteenth year of Neighborhoods Day. I mean, when you started off with this 16 years ago, did you ever think that you would get to 16 years and the size and scope and scale of this event, which it’s not an overstatement to say it involves the entire city and neighborhoods all over Detroit.
Luther Keith, Executive Director, ARISE Detroit!: It does now I don’t think any of us knew or board members when we started this in 2007, what it would become. But we just felt there was a need to put the spotlight on neighborhood groups and not just about one day. As I often have said, this is about what these groups do every day, all year long. But you really don’t pay attention to it because it just kind of goes with the territory.
Luther Keith: But if you can get all of these groups doing one thing on this same day, or primarily on this day, you’ve got something really grand. And we, pre-pandemic we would have over 200 events. Even in the pandemic, we would have over 100. We’re going to have over 100 again this year. And it’s about putting the spotlight on all these churches, community groups, and block clubs.
Luther Keith: A myriad of programs and initiatives go unsung, unheralded throughout the year. But on this day, we see all of them are special, lift them up. Thankfully to the media people like yourself, put shine a spotlight on these groups. And with the deluge of seemed like incessant bad news that we’re hit with, it is so refreshing to look around and find something that you can really feel good about. People take pride in, they smile about.
Luther Keith: So to answer your question, we didn’t know where it was going to go, but the fact that it’s 16 years and still going, tells us that this is something that the people of Detroit really love and want to be part of. And I think it’s actually kind of iconic. No other city in America does anything quite like this in Detroit. So I think along with Coney Island and Motown, we should claim Neighborhoods Day as iconic.
Stephen Henderson: So let’s talk about the pandemic and how disruptive it was not just to this day and the events on this day, but disruptive to neighborhood groups. I know from working in the neighborhood where I was born that neighborhood groups became a place of refuge for people. They had to become social service agencies. And the strain was a lot. I mean, there are a lot of groups that really just did everything they could do to hang on. How are we doing with those groups now in recovery from it all?
Luther Keith: I think I think most of them have come through it, even in the depths of the pandemic pre-vaccination 2020, we had a campaign called Stay Safe Creating Your Space where we have people have small events, ten people or less, wear masks and social distance. Since then we’ve had the vaccine. Now, of course, we encourage everybody to be vaccinated and if not we wear masks and social distance and have all your volunteers vaccinated. And many people have taken to that.
Luther Keith: As you know, ARISE Detroit, which is totally nonpolitical, stepped out a bit last year to make the statement. And actually made an issue for an official call for all Detroiters to be vaccinated because we felt that strongly about it. And many of them have taken that to heart and many of these community groups are moving forward this year.
Luther Keith: We have an amazing array of events on our website at arisedetroit.org. You can click our event list. It’s a stunning amount of energy that people are applying, you know, beautification projects, cleanup projects, but also health fairs and concerts and festivals and book fairs and food supply giveaways and a school supply giveaways. And one bit of exciting news, Stephen, you’re the first news person I’m going to tell this to.
Luther Keith: In the past, we’ve had the Detroit Public Schools. We’ve had like Blue Cross Blue Shield adopt 12 or 14 schools a year with their employees. And but they have not been able to do this. And Detroit schools have not been able to do this kind of beautification projects, getting the school ready for the students for the new school year. This year we’ve been asked by the Detroit Public School District and Dr. Beatty to have volunteers come out to every one of Detroit public schools, all 106.
Luther Keith: They are seeking volunteers to come out and help get these schools together. So we’re calling on large companies, organizations, people, just plain neighborhood people to step up and volunteer at the schools. We have other volunteer opportunities as well, but this one is really they’ve never done anything like this on this scale.
Luther Keith: When you think about all 106 schools, I think they’re shooting for like at least ten volunteers per school, which would need something over 1000 volunteers spread out across the city in neighborhoods today. So if you’re out there, you’re listening and you want to do something for the students and the young people getting ready for school, you can call here at ARISE Detroit at 313-921-1955.
Luther Keith: We’ll also be releasing information on how you can directly contact Detroit Public Schools to get engaged. It’s really great to work on behalf of our students, and it’s going to be a great highlight of neighborhoods today on August 6th, this year.
Stephen Henderson: Yeah, that’s really exciting. And again, coming out of the pandemic and the strain on schools, the strain on kids in school.
Luther Keith: Right.
Stephen Henderson: That’s the kind of support that we need them to start getting. I want to talk more specifically about some of the things that people can go do on Neighborhoods Day and how they get hooked up. But I always say the best way to do it is to start in your own neighborhood. Isn’t that right?
Luther Keith: That’s the whole idea, Neighborhoods Day is looking around you and you will see Neighborhoods Day. And I want to mention very briefly that, of course, that you can register for Neighborhoods Day right now through July the 15th by going to our website arisedetroit.org. There’s a modest $50 registration fee. For that, you’re going to get banners, T-shirts. If you’re doing a youthification project, you get a $100 voucher to buy supplies courtesy of one of our sponsors.
Luther Keith: But yeah, basically it’s anything you want to be. We have big events in Detroit that we all love. The fireworks, the Grand Prix, everybody goes downtown. What’s unique about Neighborhoods Day, we really have to educate people about it because people say, “Luther, where is Neighborhoods Day?”
Luther Keith: It’s where you want to be. What time do we start? What time do you want to start? What should we do? What do you want to do? So this is your event, but we’re so used to people telling us what to do. I can’t tell you what’s best for your neighborhood. You live there, not me. So that’s the beautiful tapestry or smorgasbord about Neighborhoods Day. All of these are independently produced groups.
Luther Keith: ARISE Detroit does not tell anybody what to do, or where to do it, or how to do it. As long as it’s a positive activity, you do it. So we have small events, you know, little block clubs. We have community organizations, we have churches, we have paternities and sororities all doing their own little thing. We’re going to be having book fairs by some of the literacy organizations. So again it’s what you want to do. What do you think you like to do?
Luther Keith: Some people just want to have an old-fashioned meet and greet. Just have a block party. Just come out your house. Cook some food, have people talk. And people talk. And what happens also is that sometimes people have formed block clubs because of neighbors. They say we don’t have a block club. So my thing is that, cook some food, invite people over. Talk about it and then you start coming together.
Luther Keith: That as well and so that’s what Neighborhoods Day is about. It’s really very simple. It’s not complex. Obviously, stay in your lane, don’t reinvent the wheel. Sometimes you can partner up with a community organization or like person and do the same thing. And what happens is that built relationships that carry forward throughout the year, you know, a lot of people come together, they meet their neighbor, they talk about things and they build on that.
Luther Keith: So that’s really what it’s about, community. People always ask me what makes a good neighborhood. A good neighborhood 9 times out of ten is an organized neighborhood. There’s somebody who is at the wheel. It’s like raising a child. You’re a father yourself. Kids don’t raise themselves by themselves.
Luther Keith: If you don’t raise them, they’re going to go, you know, just like neighbors would do if you don’t take care of them. Somebody’s not at the wheel. So, and what we see in Detroit is that so many, many organizations, I am so inspired. I get in my car on Neighborhoods Day. I literally drive all over the city. And every single Neighborhoods Day event is on our website. So you can go on it right now to arisedetroit.org, click the event list, you’ll see East Side events, West Side events, downtown events.
Luther Keith: You can go with contact information, you can call the person in charge. Say I want to come out and volunteer or I want to come out and just help. You can do that. You know, there’s not a lot of layers and bureaucracy involved in this. That’s what makes it, I think, a uniquely people-based thing.
Luther Keith: You know, it’s not somebody that somebody on high declare this is what it’s going to be. This is truly a people-led, people-inspired event. And the fact that 16 years later we’re still out here doing this and I start getting calls. Are you going, in the midst of a pandemic, are we still going to have Neighborhoods Day? Are we still going to have Neighborhoods Day? And by now we have people who have ten or 12 banners every year.
Luther Keith: They’re there and they proudly display their banners. Some people never take their banners down. They’re up all year. So it’s a wonderfully inspiring event, but it’s not just a picnic. I called it this year, a pride in pride and neighborhood pride and neighborhood power. Because these people are working. Neighborhoods Day literally and I’m not overstating this, Neighborhoods Day literally changes Detroit.
Luther Keith: Because trash is removed, houses are painted, kids get books, people are fed. Things get done. So the city is not the same city after Neighborhoods Day. It’s a better city. And so we simply want to build on that throughout the year. And even though volunteerism is very, very important to Neighborhoods Day, ARISE Detroit really is bigger than volunteerism. And I think I’ve used this on your show before, Steve because I say, do you volunteer to take care of your kid?
Stephen Henderson: Right. Right.
Luther Keith: And you don’t do it because it’s your responsibility as a parent. We live in Detroit, so we want to make people understand that it’s our responsibility every day to do something and to keep that in mind as I see it. Before I quote C.T. Vivian and Dr. King, it said during the Montgomery boycott and the civil rights movement, there was a question that was always asked, what are you doing for the movement? Well, I’m cooking. I’m driving people to work. But you’re doing something for the movement.
Luther Keith: What are you doing for Detroit? And you don’t have to run a big organization. I’m making sure my kids graduate from high school. Okay, do that. So it does not just have to be a big grand thing. But what makes it is all these connections. And so, you know that you’re in southwest Detroit. Somebody from the east side is working like you. Somebody from the Northend is working like you and you’re all connected.
Luther Keith: As one resident of one organization told me said everybody feels big on Neighborhoods Days. Everybody feels big on Neighborhoods Day. And so that’s the thing I think that connects ARISE Detroit. So many people have come to ARISE Detroit because we just about one thing, how are we going to have a better community?
Luther Keith: That’s all we care about. We don’t care about your politics, where you go to church, how much money you make, how good-looking you are, all that. What do— You want a better Detroit? I want a better Detroit. Let’s work together to make it happen. And that’s what Neighborhoods Day is all about.
Stephen Henderson: Yeah. All right. Luther Keith, always great to talk to you. And congratulations on the 16th year of Neighborhoods Day.
Luther Keith: Thank you, Steve. Appreciate it.
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