The times and the neighborhood have changed, but alums come through for one Detroit school
Marcy Feldman would keep an eye out for the black kids.
The white ones she had been closest to, she mostly still knew. The black kids from her school were the ones she had lost track of, and in a mall or a market 35 or 40 years later, she would find herself taking an extra-long look at people’s faces.
So one day in 1996, at a grocery store in Southfield, she found herself saying, “Excuse me, did you go to Pasteur Elementary?”
The rest is history — not to mention generosity, sociability and solidarity.
Marcy Tatken Feldman and Debbie Blocker Manning wound up co-founding the Pasteur Elementary School Alumni Foundation, a group with an impossible goal, an irrepressible spirit and an enduring bond.
Since 1996, its earnest hope has been to provide today’s Pasteur students with the same sorts of resources and environment the kids took for granted when the Detroit school district set a national standard.
With Feldman, 66, driving the bus, Pasteur alumni have become volunteer readers and tutors. They have funded small scholarships whose value lies as much in reminding today’s kids that college is a possibility as in actually paying for it.
They serve as pen-pals, shining examples on career day, and providers of obvious necessities like food and less obvious ones like tickets to a Wayne State production of “Romeo and Juliet.”
They essentially embody Feldman’s two core doctrines.
First, she says, “Do something.”
And: “Do it now.”
Paying it forward
Feldman, who lives in Huntington Woods, will receive the Jewish Community Relations Council’s 2015 Activist Award on Monday night at Adat Shalom in Farmington Hills.
She says she’s as grateful as she is surprised at the recognition. Honestly, she says, it has always been about the causes, which most recently has meant the kids.
“It’s not ‘giving back,’” she says. “It’s paying forward, taking on the responsibility of making things better.”
When she attended Pasteur, south of Eight Mile near Livernois, 90 percent of the student body was white and most of the 90 percent was Jewish.
The school extended through eighth grade and offered shop classes, home ec and any number of clubs. Now more than 80 percent of the students from pre-K through sixth grade receive free or reduced-price meals, and most of them depend on the school for both lunch and breakfast.
Feldman asked a little girl one day what she ate for breakfast on the weekends. The girl was quiet for a bit, then finally said, “Dinner.”
Life wasn’t always easy, even in the “Leave It to Beaver” era. Feldman’s father died when she was 23 months old. But her mother was smart and funny and present, and she never had to wait until nighttime to eat.
Finding a need
Principal Sharon Lawson will lead a Pasteur contingent at the awards ceremony Monday.
“We all love her,” Lawson says. “She’s a genuinely good person. She’s always trying to find out what you need.”
For Feldman, it’s an extension of a simple question that struck her after a fall on an icy sidewalk led to a three-month recuperation from a closed-head injury 20 years ago.
Every volunteer project she’d been working on, she realized, had continued apace without her.
“What,” she wondered, “isn’t being done?”
Then came the chance encounter with Manning, a mini-reunion with a pack of Pasteur grads at Feldman’s house, a suggestion that they do it again, and an admonition from the host:
“Let’s make it count.”
Let’s turn it into a database of 1,500 alumni from the 1930s onward, and 275 active members from coast to coast and as far away as Israel.
The group’s headquarters is Heartwear Designs, the jewelry shop Feldman and her husband, Michael, own in downtown Birmingham. Or really, it’s the laptop there that also holds short lists of alumni from a few other Detroit schools.
The people on the lists have told her they would like to do for their school what the foundation has done for Pasteur.
Feldman says she’ll be glad to help anyone who asks.
She knows it can make a difference — and not just for the kids.