'Resilient' spirit of MLK inspires Detroit nonprofit day of service

Jasmin Barmore
The Detroit News

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. showed spiritual resiliency in his belief that equal rights and equal treatment under the law were essential for all. 

On the day recognizing the civil rights icon, a Detroit non-profit offered a little resiliency to those struggling with homelessness and poverty. 

Detroit Phoenix Center volunteers Drake Johnson, 10 and Khadijah Johnson assemble "resilient kits,"  consisting of various school supplies, hygiene kits, non perishable food as well as winter clothes and PPE for youth and families it serves in the Detroit, Michigan  area on January 18, 2021.

Detroit Phoenix Center volunteers spent Monday preparing "resilient kits," care packages for youth transitioning out of homelessness and poverty stricken situations, as part of the National Day of Service. 

Winter scarves, hats, gloves, hygiene products, personal protection equipment, non-perishable food items and other items someone 13-24 needs to successfully navigate the pandemic were packaged up into care kits for them.

Courtney Smith, founder and CEO of the organization, said she hopes the packages "will help those in need to remain resilient to what is going on in the world today, so they can continue to flourish."

“I always aimed for one of my biggest goals to be the person that I needed growing up” she said. “I had some hardships growing up. I knew what I needed during that time and I didn't always receive it.”

Detroit Phoenix Center volunteers assemble "resilient kits,"  consisting of various school supplies, hygiene kits, non perishable food as well as winter clothes and PPE for youth and families it serves in the Detroit, Michigan area on January 18, 2021.

The observance of King's birthday — marked every third Monday in January — is nationally recognized as a Day of Service to encourage Americans across the country to volunteer to improve their communities. For DPC, the goal is to positively impact the lives of 500 youth, with the help of 10 volunteers at the center putting together the packages and hundreds across the state virtually preparing the kits due to COVID restrictions.

"Martin Luther King is a role model for blacks," volunteer Drake Johnson said as he packaged up the kits. "He helped us through tough times back in the days when there was segregation, and I really think that if he was still here he would of helped us through this time too."

This year, the group got a boost from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris' Presidential Inaugural Committee, a national effort partnering with organizations across the country for service in honor of King's legacy. 

More than 100 people signed up for the virtual preparation, and Smith credits the partnership with committee for the extra interest. 

“I registered through the virtual component,” said Sierra Devoe, a youth action board member for DPC. “Me and a few of my supporters of my non-profit organization, Project Rise, are going to get on a Zoom and put some kits together today.”

The Detroit Phoenix Center, which also serves as a COVID response service center and the only Detroit drop-in place for those who are homeless or at high risk for homelessness, said packages will be dropped off at DPC between noon and 4 p.m. Monday and every other Thursday going forward.

Detroit Phoenix Center volunteer Kahlio Johnson, 16, helps assemble "resilient kits,"  consisting of various school supplies, hygiene kits, non perishable food as well as winter clothes and PPE for youth and families it serves in the Detroit, Michigan  area on January 18, 2021.

The kits will be distributed year round to youth in their afterschool program and those who drop in at the center to take a shower, get food or wash their clothes.

One person who received assistance from the center is Rosa Hicks, who credits DPC with helping get her out of a domestic violence situation. 

At 18 years old, Hicks said she was involved in a abusive relationship. Her two sons were taken from her by Child Protective Services, and she said she felt all alone with no way out of her situation. DPC gave her all the tools she needed to create a new life for herself and children, she said. 

Detroit Phoenix Center volunteers Drake Johnson, 10 and Khadijah Johnson assemble "resilient kits,"  consisting of various school supplies, hygiene kits, non perishable food as well as winter clothes and PPE for youth and families it serves in the Detroit, Michigan  area on January 18, 2021.
Drake Johnson comments, "Martin Luther King is a role model for blacks.  He helped us through tough times back in the days when there was segregation and I really think that if he was still here he would of helped us through this time too."

“They helped me get my house and everything I needed for it," said Hicks, who is now a youth action board member at the DPC. "So, doing this today makes me feel like I am giving back to a community that helped me too."

For Smith, she said that every young person needs to have someone who will champion them and won’t give up on them. These kits, she said, are just a way to show them that someone cares. 

“It's just a simple gesture that will go a long way," she said.