Fix-up work marks 50 years since ’67 Detroit uprising

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — For four years, Elvera Dillard, 71, has felt uneasy about the abandoned house next to her home on Calvert Street.

Those fears lessened Monday morning when a group of volunteers with the nonprofit Life Remodeled boarded up the two-story structure.

“I’m glad they boarded it up because late at night sometimes I hear strange noises over there and I had been worried about the house being set on fire right next to me,” Dillard said, looking over at the house from her front porch.

Life Remodeled, a nonprofit founded in 2011, set out this week to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Detroit uprising by doing volunteer work in the community where the civil unrest began.

The boarding up of hundreds of vacant houses like the one next to Dillard’s are among projects nearly 12,000 volunteers are expected to undertake this week in the neighborhood surrounding Central High School on the city’s west side. Other work involves clearing blight and making repairs to homes in a 300-city block area.

The effort includes volunteers from various walks of life, said Life Remodeled CEO Chris Lambert.

“Everybody is working together,” he said. “Lots of people who don’t normally work together. Everybody is at their best.”

Volunteers will gather each day at Durfee Elementary Middle School for the six-day project. The building was busy Monday with pre-construction activity as volunteers removed old windows and flooring.

Life Remodeled is leasing the building from Detroit Public Schools Community District for $1 a year and will transform it into a mixed-use Community Innovation Center. The building will house a Head Start program, co-working spaces for entrepreneurs and a pizzeria, Lambert said. The pre-kindergarten through eighth-graders who attended school in the building will move into nearby Central High School.

Among the volunteers Monday were members of Rockpointe Community Church in Sterling Heights. This is the third project the church has been involved in, said Randy Tomko, lead pastor of the church.

Church members Dan Bizzocchi and his daughter, Chrissy Bizzocchi, sat on the floor of the gym at Durfee removing nails from the wood floor that will be replaced. Despite the heat in the building, they continued to work.

“You do it for the community,” Dan Bizzocchi said. “You give what you can.”

Dillard, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1952, said she’s pleased with the effort Life Remodeled is making in the area. She hopes the city will take the next step and demolish the house next door.

“There are always those people who dispute what’s going on,” Dillard said. “Ask them, do they have a better idea? If not, keep your mouth shut and watch the community change and develop and become what it was 50 years ago.”

Twitter: @CWilliams_ DN