Highland Park — It took Shamayim Harris nine years to get her late 2-year-old son a gravestone.
The black stone memorial emblazoned with Jakobi Ra’s name is a milestone for Harris as she and her team work on the first phase of a self-sustaining eco-village on a blighted block in Highland Park. It’s the block of Avalon Street where she plans to turn vacant lots into basketball and tennis courts; plant urban gardens; open stores in shipping containers; and renovate several houses with the help of volunteers and hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations.
And while work is steadily progressing on the block’s Homework House, which will include a computer lab, library, laundry room and kitchen for kids after school. Harris awaits the arrival of a $100,000 prefabricated house donated by Ellen Degeneres for use as office space.
Harris, whose friends call her Mama Shu, said Friday that the gravestone in the park she dedicated to her son is the most important piece of Avalon Village.
“It’s the main piece inside of the village,” Harris said, standing on the sidewalk in front of the park. “(The park) is a living monument.”
She put the headstone on layaway after Jakobi Ra was killed by a hit-and-run driver not far from Avalon on Sept. 23, 2007.
“I just left it there,” she said. “I didn’t have the strength to go get it.”
She felt spurred by the recent momentum Avalon Village has seen. “What this was really about originated from the pain and the grief,” she said.
When she felt it time to have the headstone finished, the funeral home waved her balance and gave her the stone for the $250 payment she put down in 2007. That’s just another example of things falling into place for Harris and her mission.
She felt his headstone belonged not in a cemetery with his body, but in his park.
“That’s where his energy is,” she said. “His remains are there (in the cemetery), but his life is here.”
Throughout the weekend, Harris is holding grand opening events to celebrate the anniversary of Jakobi’s death. Though the Homework House isn’t finished, Harris wants people to come see the work she, the volunteers and project manager Gerrajh Surles have done over the summer on the park, the house and some of the vacant lots.
On Saturday, Avalon Village will give away 100 backpacks, 100 bus cards and free haircuts as part of a back-to-school day from noon to 4 p.m. on the Avalon block between Woodward and Second. On Sunday, Harris will play a movie in the park in the afternoon. She hopes people will come by to celebrate her son and the Village.
She said workers will start on the interior of the Homework House soon. The roof has been repaired, most of the windows are in and the entire building has been stabilized. She expects the awning over the porch to be finished soon. Rochester Hills-based Luma Resources donated solar panels that need to be installed on the roof of the homework house.
Much of Avalon Village is going to be powered by the sun, Harris said. Fitting, given Jakobi’s middle name is that of the Egyptian sun god.
The whole project will take years and about $3 million to finish. It would eventually add a halfway house, cafe, greenhouses and more recreation.
Harris said Friday she’s not about deadlines: Avalon Village is organic, and her whole plan will come together one way or another.