Detroit — Ten-year-old Frederick Tompkins interprets Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision for America in simple terms most can understand.
“He helped blacks become friends with whites and he did it with peace and kindness,” Tompkins said while boarding up abandoned houses along Hoover and Seven Mile roads and removing trash from yards. “I’m causing peace and kindness in the world.”
He was one of hundreds of Metro Detroiters to take to the streets on a frigid Sunday to honor the slain civil-rights leader on the eve of today’s federal holiday in his honor. On the city’s east side, more than 100 volunteers and Americorps staff boarded up seven homes to create routes in crime-filled neighborhoods for students walking to Osborn High School, Brenda Scott Elementary Middle School and city bus stops.
“We’re doing this in his name and what he stood for — standing up and making a change, and not being OK with what’s going on,” said project organizer Zach Fairchild of AmeriCorps’ Urban Safety Project in the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University.
Sunday’s events, which included the 20th annual United We Walk outside West Bloomfield High School, will be followed by a host of events today, a day that has evolved from time off school and work to a day of service for people from all walks of life. Among other events, Harry Belafonte is speaking at the University of Michigan, while the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit plans a daylong celebration.
On Sunday, students and senior citizens wielded hammers and saws along Hoover as part of the Safe Routes to School project. It was the second of three days during which volunteers planned to board 20 homes in three neighborhoods.
Project manager April Williams said neighbors who lived next to burned-out homes were grateful.
“Just one person saying thank you makes it all worth it,” Williams said.
Nearly a dozen students from Universal Academy, a K-12 charter school in southwest Detroit, turned out Sunday.
The students, who live in southwest Detroit, said going inside vacant homes and closing them to thieves, squatters was eye-opening.
“One of the homes still had pictures of the family in it on the wall. A mom and dad and three kids. It really affected the kids. It broke our hearts. They had to pick up and leave and didn’t have time to take their belongings. Who would leave a family portrait behind?” said Manal Hammoud, a senior adviser, at the school who was with the students on Sunday.
Deshawn Singleton is a 22-year-old Wayne State student and a native Detroiter. Spending Sunday creating a safer walking route for students, improving the look of the neighborhood and sending a message to the world that people still care was how he wanted to spend his day.
“I’m from Detroit city,” Singleton said.
“The city was once a gem and I want to restore it. Today we are bringing together all ethnicities. Everybody from any type of creative class. Everybody is working, the boss is working, the worker is working. We are here as a community.”