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Elizabeth Valdez is tough to miss. The 42-year-old, life-long resident of southwest Detroit is usually at the front of neighborhood improvement efforts, her blazing red hair blowing in the wind and her voice heard above the crowd.

She has adopted the motto “Woman on Fire” as she works to make her southwest Detroit neighborhood safe, blight-free and full of positivity for young people.

Valdez has two daughters —Nyasia, a thriving 22-year-old and Karizma, an energetic 18 year-old— and she’s committed to making a better world for them.

To that end, she is president of Detroit Southwest Pride, a grassroots community group active since 2011. A community cleanup project was held that year and the group grew from that effort. Valdez is a founding member.

“We go door-to-door knocking,” Valdez said. “We try relationship building. That is why it’s important to build relationships. Once they see you out doing work, not just talking about it, they take you seriously.”

The grassroots organization annually organizes such activities to provide positive activities for youth and as a way to fight blight and negative emotions that may stem from it.

“I want to leave a world for my daughters that is peaceful and compassionate,” Valdez said. It is not funded through any official source, relying on donations from the community to keep its activities going.

Detroit Southwest Pride has partnered with area businesses such as Danto Furniture for cleanups and persuaded other businesses to join the Detroit Police Department’s green light program. As part of the program, businesses pay for high definition video surveillance cameras which police officers can monitor in real time. A green light outside the business shows that it is a participant.

Members also have worked to head off violence between gangs by intervening and providing judgment-free help to find peaceful ways to end conflict.

“We are taking the initiative to keep people safe,” Valdez said.

The organization also has taken the initiative to unofficially adopt Boyer Park, located at West Vernor and Dragoon in the heart of the neighborhood.

Members mow grass, pick up litter and debris and work to maintain the small park that was recently renovated by The City of Detroit.

The organization hosts events for children such as an Easter Egg Hunt planned for March 25. It started in 2012 with 1,000 eggs and has grown to 10,000 eggs, attracted lines of children around the park. Alyssa Gray, 27, regularly takes her daughters — Eliyannah Moore, 8, and Kiersteynn Moore, 6 – to the group’s events.

“It is very organized,” Gray says. “It makes me want to help out.”

Valdez, who works at a dollar store in the neighborhood that is benefiting from her volunteerism. ‘I am most proud of being able to bring about a positive and productive change in our community,” she said. “And being able to keep our youth safe and engaged.”

Santiago Esparza is a southwest Detroit-based freelance writer.

One Year in the Life, a new monthly supplement to the Michigan Chronicle ROOTS section, is dedicated to exclusive coverage of the Detroit experience at a grassroots level. The edition is the result of a partnership between ARISE Detroit!, a nonprofit community mobilization coalition of more than 400 organizations and the Michigan Chronicle is the state’s oldest and most respected African American newspaper. The project is made possible through a grant from the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan.

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