Editor's Pick

Taking Detroit Into Their Own Hands

  • Destiny Marshall picks sunflower seeds at D-Town Farm during a tour of the 7-acre locale in Detroit. D-Town Farm is part of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and began in 2006. It has been at its present location on the west side of Detroit for six years.
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    Destiny Marshall picks sunflower seeds at D-Town Farm during a tour of the 7-acre locale in Detroit. D-Town Farm is part of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network and began in 2006. It has been at its present location on the west side of Detroit for six years.
    Erica Yoon
  • Ajhane Thomas, 18, a student at Catherine Ferguson Academy, walks back to the school barn as Jon Miller of Detroit leads his draft horses, Tess and Tara, around the urban farm, plowing through garlic plots for the first time at the school. Miller hopes that the horses can stable closer to the city to do farm chores and provide educational outings on a regular basis.
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    Ajhane Thomas, 18, a student at Catherine Ferguson Academy, walks back to the school barn as Jon Miller of Detroit leads his draft horses, Tess and Tara, around the urban farm, plowing through garlic plots for the first time at the school. Miller hopes that the horses can stable closer to the city to do farm chores and provide educational outings on a regular basis.
    Erica Yoon
  • Mars Psymons cuts wood found on a dead-end street with fellow Golden Gate residents so they can use it for fire. Psymons is a founding member of the Golden Gate community, an 11-house collective that functions as a cohesive group, promoting self-sustainability, urban agriculture and an alternative way of life. All of the residents are essentially squatting in unoccupied homes.
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    Mars Psymons cuts wood found on a dead-end street with fellow Golden Gate residents so they can use it for fire. Psymons is a founding member of the Golden Gate community, an 11-house collective that functions as a cohesive group, promoting self-sustainability, urban agriculture and an alternative way of life. All of the residents are essentially squatting in unoccupied homes.
    Erica Yoon
  • Catherine Ferguson Academy student Raeven Locke, 18, pushes a stroller with her son as her classmates Shantanique Dixson and Tiychina Wilbourn-Little walk along the road to the bus stop after school.
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    Catherine Ferguson Academy student Raeven Locke, 18, pushes a stroller with her son as her classmates Shantanique Dixson and Tiychina Wilbourn-Little walk along the road to the bus stop after school.
    Erica Yoon
  • Harvested vegetables sit in the school gym alongside a collection of toys and baby strollers. Catherine Ferguson Academy has been open since 1986 and is designed for young mothers and expecting mothers trying to finish high school.
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    Harvested vegetables sit in the school gym alongside a collection of toys and baby strollers. Catherine Ferguson Academy has been open since 1986 and is designed for young mothers and expecting mothers trying to finish high school.
    Erica Yoon
  • Homeless men and women form a line to wait for the soup kitchen at Spirit of Hope church in North Corktown to open on a Saturday afternoon. North Corktown is the oldest neighborhood in Detroit, once settled by Irish immigrants. The church was known as a place of refuge for many seeking spiritual sustenance, and continues to fulfill that role today.
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    Homeless men and women form a line to wait for the soup kitchen at Spirit of Hope church in North Corktown to open on a Saturday afternoon. North Corktown is the oldest neighborhood in Detroit, once settled by Irish immigrants. The church was known as a place of refuge for many seeking spiritual sustenance, and continues to fulfill that role today.
    Erica Yoon
  • Kadiri Sennefer, also known as S.I.R.I.U.S., and Bryce Anderson-Small, also known as BRYCE, rap together on stage at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit during a celebration of urban gardening and farming through art and performance. Sennefer works on an urban farm in Detroit and Anderson-Small helps mentor youth through media literacy.
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    Kadiri Sennefer, also known as S.I.R.I.U.S., and Bryce Anderson-Small, also known as BRYCE, rap together on stage at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit during a celebration of urban gardening and farming through art and performance. Sennefer works on an urban farm in Detroit and Anderson-Small helps mentor youth through media literacy.
    Erica Yoon
  • Zoo Kue, 18, waits backstage as her mother, Mao Vang, dresses her. Zoo's sister, Maijer, 23, stands by her side prior to the Hmong New Year's Festival in Fraser, Mich. The mom and sisters are from Florida and came to support the Hmong community and visit their relatives in Roosevelt, Mich. Michigan has one of the larger Hmong populations in the U.S.
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    Zoo Kue, 18, waits backstage as her mother, Mao Vang, dresses her. Zoo's sister, Maijer, 23, stands by her side prior to the Hmong New Year's Festival in Fraser, Mich. The mom and sisters are from Florida and came to support the Hmong community and visit their relatives in Roosevelt, Mich. Michigan has one of the larger Hmong populations in the U.S.
    Erica Yoon
  • Marshall Stephens, 27, shares a meal with a neighbor in the Golden Gate Community collective of Detroit.
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    Marshall Stephens, 27, shares a meal with a neighbor in the Golden Gate Community collective of Detroit.
    Erica Yoon
  • Dried herbs hang from a ceiling in Marshall Stephens' house in the Golden Gate community. Stephens, 27, is one of 22 people in the collective, which began in November 2011. He lives without electricity or running water. "It's really elemental. There's a challenge to living here," he says. "But you're in touch with the neighbors."
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    Dried herbs hang from a ceiling in Marshall Stephens' house in the Golden Gate community. Stephens, 27, is one of 22 people in the collective, which began in November 2011. He lives without electricity or running water. "It's really elemental. There's a challenge to living here," he says. "But you're in touch with the neighbors."
    Erica Yoon
  • Volunteers plant trees in the Cody Rouge South neighborhood on a Saturday morning. A nonprofit group called The Greening of Detroit wants to plant 1,100 trees by Thanksgiving.
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    Volunteers plant trees in the Cody Rouge South neighborhood on a Saturday morning. A nonprofit group called The Greening of Detroit wants to plant 1,100 trees by Thanksgiving.
    Erica Yoon
  • A bridal party crosses 14th Street between Dalzelle Street and Michigan Avenue in downtown Detroit after a photo shoot inside the burned house on the left. Across from the historical Michigan Central Train Station, the house caught fire in June of 2012, along with the house to the right. They were part of a project called Imagination Station, an effort to place art in unoccupied spaces.
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    A bridal party crosses 14th Street between Dalzelle Street and Michigan Avenue in downtown Detroit after a photo shoot inside the burned house on the left. Across from the historical Michigan Central Train Station, the house caught fire in June of 2012, along with the house to the right. They were part of a project called Imagination Station, an effort to place art in unoccupied spaces.
    Erica Yoon

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Editor's Note: Erica Yoon is an intern in NPR's multimedia department. She recently spent time in Detroit for a school project and offers this reflection.

I am an outsider to Detroit. And until recently, I'll admit, the place I imagined was shaped by a lot of assumptions. To me it was a city defined by riots, politics and the automobile industry crisis. But all of that changed when I went there for a school project last fall — and began listening to people's stories.

Like Malik Yakini, founder and executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. He showed me how, exactly, self-determination can help mitigate some of the challenges faced by the city's residents. Kadiri Sennefer, also a Detroit native who works alongside Yakini at D-Town Farm, agrees:

Kadiri Sennefer, a native of Detroit, is a farm manager at D-Town Farms. Sennefer has been with the farm since it relocated to West Outer Drive in Detroit in 2008.

hide captionKadiri Sennefer, a native of Detroit, is a farm manager at D-Town Farms. Sennefer has been with the farm since it relocated to West Outer Drive in Detroit in 2008.

Erica Yoon

"We don't have it easy. Yet we continue to push forward ... in the midst of what everything that they're saying about Detroit," he says, "there's prosperity and abundance and a great deal of it flowing through Detroit."

Despite the challenges, I learned, there are real signs of resilience in Detroit. All of the people I met wanted me to know this.

Urban gardening became my portal into the vast network of community organization around the city. I wanted to examine whether Detroit's deeply rooted economic strain could really be untangled by hands in the soil. After a while, though, it was about much more than growing vegetables.

Gardening alone might not fix the city, but it's one part of a larger network of people — the music scene, grassroots movements, new educational programs — working toward a common goal. Change won't happen overnight, but there's still momentum.

"I like to believe that we [are] holding this place together," Sennefer says. "You know, we the people that are the visionaries, the dreamers, the people that's holding on to the faith that things aren't as bad as they seem."

An outsider may look at Detroit's empty buildings and see abandoned hope. But to plenty of the city's residents, they represent opportunity.

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