Bankole: Alkebu-lan Village guiding force for Detroit's youth

Bankole Thompson
Marvis Cofield poses with some of the center's young people.

For Marvis Cofield, founder of Alkebu-lan Village, a youth enrichment center on the city’s east side, it is not just enough to whine and complain about all the problems plaguing Detroit.

Time spent whining could be used to come up with solutions that would help address the plethora of issues in the community.

Those who raise their voices the loudest against systemic issues should also be leading the way in the problem-solving business.

“We spend a lot of time talking about what others are doing. But we have to talk about what we are doing as a people in maintaining our communities. If you are a man you should build your neighborhood,” Cofield told me as he reflects on the 40th anniversary of Alkebu-lan Village, which started as a martial arts training center for young African-American men in 1978.  

On Aug. 4, the birthday of former president Barack Obama, the center is planning an all-day celebration of its inception from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. at its home on 7701 Harper.

Cofield, a trained martial artist, sees no regret at the decision he and 10 other martial art instructors made decades ago to establish an empowerment center to encourage physical fitness and healthy lifestyle among young black men.

The center has now expanded to include leadership training, visual and performing arts, tutoring and youth entrepreneurship.

Over the years, the center has been a pillar of support for thousands of black youth who successfully completed the programs that are offered, including martial arts.

“I’m for the development of our people, one brick at a time. Our kids don’t see any positive role models in their houses and even in schools,” Cofield said. “That is why we have this village. It is not just a structural building. It is philosophical because nobody is going to save us but us.”

What is remarkable is that Alkebu-lan Village is one of the few remaining and vibrant African-centered institutions in a city where majority of the residents are African-American. Many have gone on to bite the dust for their inability to weather the storm.

“That is why we are celebrating 40 years out of the wilderness to the promised land,” Cofield said. “Booker T. Washington said drop your bucket where you are. And that is what we did with Alkebu-lan. A lot of tears but mostly cheers. We stayed on this side of town and built this village when everybody left.”

Gregory McKenzie, the organization's business development coordinator, said it is more than just an organization founded as a martial arts federation.

 “Alkebu-lan Village is an intervention program,” McKenzie said. “We have gained some distinctive competencies and among them is youth development.”

McKenzie cited as an example a contract the center received for the 2014-15 school year from the former Education Achievement Authority to tackle truancy in EAA schools.

 “The EAA asked us to visit 500 homes over a six- month period. We went to visit with the students and monitored them,” McKenzie said. “We found out that transportation was the issue and in some cases the reason most of the students were not going back to school was that they were babysitting their siblings.”

 According to McKenzie, the result of their visits was seeing 346 students return to school.

 “We were very successful in dealing with truancy. Our kids want to know if you care. They don’t care who you know,” said Cofield, a former member of the Detroit Public Schools board. “Everyone wants to be cared about. And if you don’t work with these kids during the day time, they will get you at night.”

The center is located near the Interstate 94 corridor in the Industrial Park area, which is still blighted. But some promising economic development projects are already underway like Flex-N-Gate.

“There are 1,500 jobs that are earmarked for people who can walk to work as a result of the development coming to this area in the next three to four years,” McKenzie said. “One of our charges now is to rebuild this area and make homes in it.”

 Toward the end our interview, I asked Cofield why Alkebu-lan Village has survived this long.

 “We have the right people who understand that it is not a job but a mission. It is not about where you live but how you live. We did this for ourselves,” Cofield said.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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