By Khary Frazier
I live in and own the home I was raised in as a child. My neighborhood doesn’t have a name. The nameless neighborhoods throughout Detroit are full of transient renters, abandoned, unkempt, dilapidated properties, and families experiencing poverty. This generalization is often expressed by people who live outside these neighborhoods. However, I apply my revisionist history when I observe the structures and environment of my neighborhood. It’s not just a space. It’s where people live/d. Inside these neighborhoods are people—people who start or carry on the legacies of their families. Across the street from my home is a home that has not been occupied in over a decade. The structure of the home remains intact, though exterior components have been stripped or weathered away. Guests to my home see the house, and often shake their heads in disgust, with comments like, ‘”This is what makes Detroit so sad!” or “The city is not developing these neighborhoods because Black people live here.” I look at the house every day when I collect my mail, and think, that’s Ms. Teresa’s house.
Across the street from my home is a home that has not been occupied in over a decade. The structure of the home remains intact, though exterior components have been stripped or weathered away. Guests to my home see the house, and often shake their heads in disgust, with comments like, ‘”This is what makes Detroit so sad!” or “The city is not developing these neighborhoods because Black people live here.” I look at the house every day when I collect my mail, and think, that’s Ms. Teresa’s house.
Ms. Teresa and my grandparents were like many of the first non-Jewish families to move into my neighborhood in the mid 1960s. Many more Black families moved into the neighborhood after the 1967 Rebellion (uprising or riot, if you prefer). My neighborhood was anchored by elders like Ms. Brown (my maternal grandmother, “Motherdear”), Ms. Deemer, Grandma Cook, Mr. Male, and Mrs. Craft. Ms. Deemer was a retired plant worker and numbers lady who provided loans to many of the families on my block. She lived to be well into her 100s. Williard Scott missed her dedication, but our block never did. At the height of community unrest in the early 90s, there was an increase in gang activity, drugs, drive-by shootings, and drug addiction. During this period, the elders in our neighborhood were unthreatened, protected, honored, and respected. Courtesy newspapers, lawn service, snow removal, and meals were shared from one family to another. Christmas gifts were often exchanged as well, especially among families with children.
I believe the value of Detroit is in its people. I grew up surrounded by families who came to Detroit seeking opportunity. Born in 1982, I had the privilege of living in a neighborhood full of elders who had recently retired from decades of service. In retirement, they welcomed the opportunity to appreciate the homes they had purchased in the 60s or 70s. They nurtured lawns full of seasonal flowers, gardens filled with foods (before urban gardening was a trend), and porches that created the sense of comfort that they remembered from their Southern homes.
As I child I was bored on visits South with my elders, but these trips were cherished and dear for them. I now realize this was because of their attachment to their childhood home/s. I understand that my home is in a neighborhood that was filled with strong Black matriarchs and patriarchs, people who proudly paid off mortgages while appreciating the value of their community. They modeled their homes after favorite features of their Southern roots: porch swings, rock gardens, birdhouses, and many other aspects of Southern culture.
My earliest memories of friendships, playing, and growing into my individuality begin on Clements. It was a very unique setting that influences much of my life today. From the mid 1980s through the early 1990s, when our family lived on Clements, there were 22 children in my age group. Beginning with my sister Dara, there were also Apryl, Don, Juan, Carlos, Kenita, Brian, Andre, Big Andre, Aaron, Kenny Boy, Paradise, Franzor, Raenita, Tashiana, Taquila, Shaniya, little Andre, Mike, Shawn, little James, and Teliya. In addition, many of our young cousins would often spend summer on our block. After school and in the summers, we played outside — football, pick ‘em up mess ‘em up, hide and go seek, tag, that’s my car — or we simply talked about each other!
I believe my open nature and personable attitude stem directly from the fact that from seven years old I interacted with so many different kinds of people. Our parents and grandparents all led different walks of life. Through my short visits and talks with drug dealers, factory workers, retirees, welfare moms, fast food workers, teachers, entrepreneurs, hustlers, mechanics, and lunch aides, I was supported in a loving cross section of society that viewed me as an extension of their family because of my friendship with their children.
Today my neighborhood looks, feels, and is different. I balance the reverence I have for what was with an understanding of what is. The following verses characterize what I feel today. They were written to the melody and rhythm of the song “Free,” featured on artist Carolyn Striho’s 2016 album release, Afterthought.
A landscape of broken homes and abandoned plots
Now streets like mine got abandoned blocks
Where I reminisce life I can stand and watch
The 80s and the 90s I’m here and now
As I cruise the Lodge exit to exit
I can tell you stories that you never were expecting
Detroit not much but the people are electric
Love it or hate it but you got a perspective
And we try to bottle it up
You know how Detroit is, can’t be followed by much
Depends where you stand; where you from
Place opportunity; birth daughters and sons
In a shadow of a world that doesn’t exist
Stabilized families and blue-collar shifts
Where we used to work lines now we walk ‘em to get
Unemployment, education, chance to live
Loving more where I live than the places that I visit
From my front porch I can hear it if I listen
Television sets, kids and car systems
Stories of love, life and Detroit Pistons
This is Abstract Art
Tyrie made it clear but it’s still your call
Judgment or interpretation
To interpret this then you have to take in
Skills and our talents everyone who matters
Life as our canvas colored to accent
Faith with family / death with sadness
Hurt with hunger / life with laughter
As we mix it up it’s caught to capture
Beauty of a heaven or a hell of disaster
Like flowerbeds filled with litter and trash
Tulips rise up from the dried out grass
Best friends are professionals who moved on
Come back and complain ‘bout what went wrong
And I tell ‘em that I love it, cause it’s so strong
Everyday filled with faith here it doesn’t take long
To find recovering addicts
Hands scaled up from the needles that crack ‘em
They support me tell me keep on rapping
Our connect they connect to my boy that’s trapping
My boy pitching boy but support me having
A chance to be real in this art I capture
My surroundings motivational
Life is my story so my song conversational