Fun and learning in the sun at Metro Detroit Youth Day

Kyla Smith
The Detroit News

Detroit — With Belle Isle as the backdrop paired with unlimited games and free food, thousands of kids came out in droves to have fun in the sun.

Metro Detroit Youth Day celebrated its 33rd year Wednesday with more than 34,000 youth.

The annual summer event has morphed into the largest youth gathering in Michigan, drawing more than 1 million kids over the years.

The kid heaven was spread across Belle Isle’s athletic field and had everything from a Detroit Pistons Sprite basketball tournament, football, lacrosse, martial arts, an entertainment stage and a petting zoo.

Jarod Samuels, 11, was apprehensive about coming to the event.

“I never been here, but my mom said I would have a good time,” said Jarod, who came to the event with his mother, Faith Samuels. “I really liked seeing the animals, especially the camels. You only see those animals on TV. I’m glad she brought me out here.”

Birdies Anderson, who has been volunteering for six years, believes this is one of the most important events in the city of Detroit.

“This is a place where kids can still be kids. Everything is fun, no worries or hidden agendas,” Anderson said. “With the addition of ‘College Row,’ kids can get motivated early on.”

While fun and games were the main attraction, 110 students were awarded scholarships by the Michigan Youth Appreciation Foundation. College representatives from seven schools were on site to stress the importance of a college education and talk to potential students.

While the event has proved to be successful in the past, Ed Deeb, Youth Day coordinator and chairman, former CEO and president of the Michigan Food and Beverage Association almost canceled the event after its first year.

“Initially, I started Youth Day because I wanted to show the kids that we care and that they do matter,” said Deeb, who came up with idea after tension started to build between youth and Detroit store owners. “In the first year only 1,100 kids showed up, but after that, 10,000 came. We want the youth to know that they are not alone.”

Kenneth Mcphaul Jr., uses Youth Day as an incentive to inspire his students.

“I want to expose my kids to all of the opportunities that’s available to them,” said Mcphaul, who is the director of an alternative education program at Ecorse High School. “They are able to mingle with other students around the city and see what the competition is. That is usually what motivates them.”

Ursula Thirkield, took the day off to bring her grandchildren Dalayah, 5, and Akyiye, 14, who were visiting from Tennessee.

“This is my first time coming out here. I didn’t know it would be this many activities,” Thirkield said. “I wanted to take them somewhere special that was catered just for them before they leave the city tomorrow.”

Dalayah, was only interested in one activity.

“I want to play basketball,” said Dalayah, who watched from the sidelines. “I’m having lots of fun.”

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