After profiling District 6 last week and Districts 1 through 5 in other recent editions, the Michigan Chronicle concludes its up-close profiles by focusing on District 7, which is represented by councilmember Gabe Leland. Serving as district manager and deputy district manager are Marshall Bullock and Mona Ali, respectively. Both were appointed by Mayor Mike Duggan after he created the City of Detroit’s Department of Neighborhoods. Charlie Beckham is the department’s executive director.
According to Data Driven Detroit, a city-based organization that gathers and analyzes demographic data pertaining to Detroit, District 7 is home to 102,40 people, of which 87,792 are Black, 9,689 are White, and 2,579 are Latino. Other ethnicity groups in the district make up 2,355 of the population.
District 7’s most western border street is Parkway, which runs along Rouge Park. Heading north, Evergreen, I-96, Lyndon and Eaton serve as border streets. The district’s most northern point is Fenkell. Coming southeast, Livernois, Wildemere and Dexter are some of the streets that serve as District 7’s eastern borders. Going back in a southwesterly path, such streets as Joy Road, Grand River and Cloverlawn are some of the border thoroughfares. Tireman, Greenfield, Paul and M-153, all zig-zag westerly to Evergreen, Hayden and Warren Avenue, the latter of which connects back to Parkway after passing Rouge Park.
“I’m so proud of Rouge Park,” said Leland. “It is one of the largest and most beautiful urban parks in the United States. It’s an incredible place when it comes to activities and nature. There’s a lot to do for the entire family. It’s actually larger than Belle Isle.”
In addition to Rouge Park, there are other smaller, but popular parks in the district, such as Stoepel No. 2 and Stein Playfield. From a recreational facility standpoint, Adam Butzel Recreation Center has been called a gem. Butzel’s Jack Adam Arena is home to the Detroit Dragons, one of just a handful of inner-city African American youth hockey teams in the country.
“Adam Butzel is an iconic gem,” said Bullock, who along with Ali, is based at Butzel. “There are strong baseball, football and hockey teams that have played here for decades. I learned how to play hockey at Butzel. There are swimming teams and archery programs. There is just a lot to do here.”
The district is also home to the storied St. Cecilia Gym, which once served as a basketball mecca. High school, college and pro basketball players from around the country would frequently gather at St. Cecilia throughout the year, especially in the summer, for fierce competition on the hardwood floor of the gym.
District 7 is also home to many block clubs and associations, all of which have a common mission — to improve the quality of life for every person.
“It is a very diverse district where there are people of all nationalities who work together to make things better,” said Ali, who has lived in District 7 her entire life. “It’s just a lively district and a good district to buy a home and raise a family.”
Among the proactive block clubs and neighborhood associations are Cody-Rouge Community Action Alliance, Barton-McFarlane Neighborhood Association, Far West Detroit Civic Association, Warrendale Community Association, Asbury Park Block Club, Happy Homes, Pride Area Community Council, West Outer Drive Civic Association, Aviation Sub, and Warren Avenue Community Association (WACO), among others.
“It’s great that these organizations and others are able to create opportunities for cooperation,” said Leland. “Many of these organizations have tremendous cooperation in terms of effective community cleanups. I am proud to work and serve in partnerships with these organizations, and to recognize the importance of each to keep their neighborhoods up and strong. Strong neighbors bring about strong communities.”
Leland cited the work of two organizations that have invested a lot of time and money into District 7 — The Skillman Foundation and Life Remodeled.
Skillman, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children, has spent millions of dollars throughout the Cody-Rouge community to establish and maintain programs to empower children.
Life Remodeled is a nonprofit organization dedicated to renovating city neighborhoods and schools under the auspices of Detroit Public Schools. Cody-Rouge and Cody High School were big recipients of the organization’s renovation efforts. The organization made significant improvements to not only Cody, but its football field, now called Hope Field.
“It’s incredible,” said Cody’s head football coach Calvin Norman of the new 90,000 sq. ft. synthetic playing turf. “Not only is the new field excellent for Cody’s football team, it’s also something that will give this community new life.”
Like many of the other six city districts, blight and crime pose real problems for the quality of life of district residents and businesses. “Originally, there were no areas in District 7 that received the Hardest Hit Funds,” the councilman said.
“I went banging on the mayor’s door to include District 7 and I was successful. We are now seeing many city-owned vacant homes come down, which is making a big, positive difference in my district.”
Leland also cited a strong partnership pertaining to safety issues in the district, courtesy of Wayne State University’s AmeriCorps Program, an urban safety project. He also pointed to the impact of Neighborhood Police Officers (NPO) in combatting crime.
“I’m happy to say that I am involved with these programs and initiatives,” said Leland. “It’s great that there are programs, projects and initiatives that have helped District 7 improve from blight, such as the Detroit Land Bank, Nuisance Abatement and Side Lot programs.”
Leland also said that he is encouraged by the economic development and the creation of jobs in District 7. He pointed to companies like Detroit Bikes, which moved from Canada to District 7. The company is now manufacturing and selling bikes across the United States. Other companies in the district include VernDale Products, Detroit Diesel and Sherwood Food Distributors.
Several African American family-owned businesses are in the district, such as Mary’s Grill, and the original Starters Bar and Grill.
For Bullock and Ali, working with residents and businesses is a 24/7 job.
“As district managers, we believe that we can help neighborhoods, communities and organizations through Mayor Duggan’s administration to get things done,” said Bullock, with Ali adding, “We really want to improve blighted areas and offer great opportunities for residents to live better lives. Therefore, the Department of Neighborhoods is really about empowering and making neighborhoods better places to live, work, and play.”
On working collaboratively: “We work hand-in-hand with Councilman Gabe Leland and his team,” said Bullock. “They have reached out to us on issues and we have reached out to them on issues. There is much cooperation between our department and Councilman Leland’s team. At the end of the day, we all want a better District 7. We don’t care who gets the credit, we all just want a better quality of life for all.”
Leland agrees, saying, “Everybody in the district has almost the same issues, but there are better ways to address issues when there’s unity with diverse groups of people and other district stakeholders, Working with the district managers and the mayor’s office, with the common goal of building better and more vibrant communities, has been a positive experience.”