Cleaning Up With The 'Motor City Blightbusters'
NOEL KING, HOST:
Last weekend, we were in Detroit reporting on the 50th anniversary of the 1967 riots. Well, 50 years later, a lot of people have left Detroit. About a million fewer people live there today. Many of the people who left left behind homes that are abandoned and lots that have fallen into disrepair. But this story isn't about who's left, it's about the people who stayed, like a group of residents in the Brightmoor neighborhood who aren't giving up on their community. NPR's Denise Guerra has this report.
DENISE GUERRA, BYLINE: They call themselves the Motor City Blight Busters. It's an early Saturday morning, and these neighborhood volunteers are sweeping up sidewalks, clearing debris and mowing lawns. This is one street in the 4-square-mile area of Brightmoor. Latest census data shows Brightmoor has some of the highest rates of poverty, housing vacancies and unemployment in Detroit. About a quarter of residents here live on incomes less than $15,000. Justin Moore is a crew leader at Blight Busters. He's 17 and grew up in the area.
JUSTIN MOORE: We got evicted a lot around here, you know. The money situation, you know, my father didn't have a job. My mother didn't have a job. So it was really hard walking around here trying to find food to eat and then also trying to pay rent.
GUERRA: We go inside one of his old houses.
JUSTIN: Just cover your nose just in case any asbestos or black mold or anything.
GUERRA: It's hard to walk. The floor is filled with glass and trash.
JUSTIN: Paint is chipping. The walls are breaking down. Windows got busted out. Flies everywhere.
GUERRA: There are blocks and blocks of houses in similar ruin. Over the years, the blight attracted more blight. People from outside the area continue to illegally dump trash here.
JOHN GEORGE: We believe here at Blight Busters that that is a form of child abuse to allow your children to grow up in and around trash.
GUERRA: That's John George. He's one of the founders of Blight Busters.
GEORGE: I don't know really, quite frankly, of any other neighborhood community that would still be intact after all the abuse that we've suffered from mayors, governors, presidents, racism, the riot, the economy.
GUERRA: George was born and raised him in Brightmoor. Like him, the people who stayed are often the only people left on their entire block.
J.R. ROMAINE ROBINSON: My dude cut the grass sometimes next door. Then sometimes, I might go across the street.
GUERRA: This is J.R. Romaine Robinson (ph). His children volunteer at Blight Busters. While they clean up other parts of the block, Robinson cleans up his own.
ROBINSON: 'Cause I'm like the only one on this end of the block, so I kind of take care of all of it.
GUERRA: Because of Blight Busters, this area now has a community garden. John George and his co-founder and wife Alicia (ph) also opened a coffee house and a large performance space dubbed the Artist Village right behind it. It's taken George 30 years to get to this point.
GEORGE: I call it the Detroit attitude, I guess. We just don't give up. It doesn't really matter how badly you pummel us, we just wipe it off and go to work.
GUERRA: Their next big project is to clean up an abandoned elementary school nearby. It closed in 2012, after a national recession and foreclosure crisis led to declining enrollment, though Blight Busters know big issues like those which hit their communities so hard are things they can't control, so they do what they can control. They clean up. They rebuild. Denise Guerra, NPR News.
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