Detroit North End Healing
By Steve Furay
Special to the Michigan Citizen
The strip of Oakland Avenue in Detroit’s North End district may be riddled with vacant homes and fire-damaged structures, but the historical significance of the region has kept the people together over the years — fighting to renew the history of a community once known for greatness.
On Aug. 24, over 200 people gathered at the Oakland Avenue Community Garden & Greenhouse, located at 9354 Oakland Avenue in Detroit, to begin healing the legendary neighborhood. Dubbed “The North End Urban Expressions Art Festival: The Healing”, the event was free and open to the public.
“We wanted to build upon the great things that are already happening. This space is a beautiful space to build upon,” says Jamii Tata, a poet and community organizer who helped organize the festivities. Tata is the founder of the Illuminate Literacy Entrepreneurship Program for local youth, and is a part of the Oakland Avenue Artist Coalition.
“We picked this location because we wanted to highlight one of the most positive locations in the North End,” he said of the Oakland Avenue Community Garden & Greenhouse. “It hosts a farmers market here every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. to provide fresh produce to a neighborhood that doesn’t have many grocery stores, that is void of access to fresh produce, void of access to fresh food.”
The day was a celebration of the artistic and cultural diversity of Detroit, with spoken word, visual art and hip hop performances featured. Special guests included jessica Care moore, Kenny Watson, Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty, Ben Jones, Bryce of 5e/Heru and many more.
Community partners included Red Door Digital, North End Youth and the North End Central Woodward Arts Committee. The Urban Expressions Art Festival received the community+public arts:DETROIT (CPAD) grant for the North End Community in 2013. The grant program was founded in 2008 as a joint venture between the College for Creative Studies (CCS), The Skillman Foundation, The J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation, and The Kresge Foundation.
Tata says creating positive avenues for entrepreneurship, growth and self worth is a beautiful thing he wants to continue. “We want to actually turn this whole Oakland Avenue into an art corridor in the North End, so we’re creating this artist coalition through this event … to continue this movement … to take over some of these buildings, and to do more events that promote the talent of our youth.”
During the day, youth and adult visual artists created murals that will remain in the area for residents to view. Local guides also led visitors on tours along Oakland Avenue, discussing the historical importance of sites like the North End Garden, Red’s Shoe Shine, the “Earth, Sky, Repose” public art piece and the “Welcome to Detroit” mural. Also featured on the tour was The Apex Bar, located on Oakland Avenue, where the careers of many Motown and jazz artists began.
“Snap your fingers if you love the D,” said poet and singer One Single Rose through the microphone, raising the energy of the crowd from the stage. “Since the riots on Clairmount in ‘67, the word Detroit sours many a mouth,” her poem begins. “A stigma forty six years later, Detroiters continually struggle to breach. Media feeds on every misdeed while beauty in the D takes a backseat to scandalous headlines.”
Her words echo the pains of poverty and the broken promises of the city’s dreams that lie crumbled like the bricks across the sidewalk in front of Oakland Avenue’s burned-out storefronts. But like other artists working to raise the spirit of Detroit, her poem highlights the love and greatness within the city.
One Single Rose’s voice moves seamlessly from her poem to the Marvin Gaye classic “Mercy Mercy Me.”
“Oh mercy mercy me. Things ain’t what they used to be,” she sings to the audience beneath the afternoon sun.
Jamii Tata and the many participants of all generations came to the festival because they believe in the people that live in North End and want to see the neighborhood heal for future generations.
“There’s so much art up and down the avenue … we wanted to highlight the history for the memories’ sake,” said Tata.
“We are moving in a direction of transformation, and that is the key to heal the community.”