It feels like just yesterday … except for the achy knees, growing bald spot atop my head and the wrinkles and age spots on my face.
Those things and more tell the real story: It’s been 10 years since I revisited my childhood neighborhood and was told by a little voice inside my head to do something about its broken, blighted and sad condition.
More specifically, it was the park of my youth, Fletcher Field, which became the main focus. Back in the late 1960s and early 70s, it was our field of dreams, the center of our kid universe. But on the day of my visit in June 2007, it had become an overgrown eyesore … an urban prairie littered with rusted, broken playground equipment and a baseball backstop that was a trellis for whatever weeds were growing around it.
What really broke my heart was that the kids in the neighborhood still played there because, frankly, they had no place else to go. It became a mission to put the pieces in place to rebuild the park and then keep it a cut, clean and safe place for the kids in the neighborhood to play and dream about better tomorrows.
In my heart, however, I wanted even more than that. I wrote this in a blog entry in October 2007:
My wife, Shannon, and I have been together for 15 years. She understands me better than I understand myself, can tell when my thoughts are racing.
After the kids were tucked away in bed last night, she sat next to me on the couch in our tiny living room in Grosse Pointe Woods and asked me what was going on in my little head (I wear a 7 1/4 fitted ballcap).
“What’s your plan, Michael?” she asked, knowing that I was thinking about the old neighborhood.
A loaded question, for sure, one that I’ve been asking myself since my visit to Fletcher Field and Dobel Street in June. Back then, I asked a simple question: “Would somebody please cut the grass at Fletcher Field so the children of the neighborhood have a real place to play?”
In retrospect, I think I was asking for a whole lot more — a face lift for the entire neighborhood so the children have a real place to live.
So, Shannon and everybody else who’s asked me about my long-term plan, that’s what I want — the neighborhood to be livable again.
I want to create a park the neighborhood can be proud of. I want to help Shield of Faith establish a private school at the former Holy Name, start programs to put kids and their caregivers on the path to success. I want to make the neighborhood safe again, put up street lights so the tragedy that took place at Schaefer and Grove Street on Thursday doesn’t happen again, and hire a private security operation to patrol streets that city police seemingly have forgotten. I want to knock down the abandoned houses in the area and build new ones. I want to reopen the corner stores that used to service the area so people don’t have to drive to the other side of 8 Mile Road to buy a gallon of milk. I want people to run back to the neighborhood rather than run from it.
And when we’re done, perhaps 10 years from now, I want to sit on my porch on Dobel Street and a have a beer with my neighbor, paying no attention to the color of his skin, and watch children play kick-the-can again on the well-manicured front lawns.
Is that too much to ask for?
Without a doubt, it was too much to ask for in the time period I had designated. And sitting at Fletcher Field this past Sunday, I felt like it would probably never happen. So much has changed in the neighborhood since 2007. Mostly, it’s just become more barren and sad.
The fix has been in for decades to kill off the area like it was a patch of weeds impeding the growth of that freakin’ airport. Now it looks like they’re exploring some other industrial options for the neighborhood.
Last night, I talked with Bishop James A. Jennings Jr., pastor of Shield of Faith, which is housed in the former Holy Name of Jesus campus. He admits to feeling the same way: Maybe it’s time to move on and take our resources and energy to a different community.
Or maybe it’s time for a renewal, attempt to find the enthusiasm and strength we all felt after the interfaith service at the old church in March 2008, when Shield of Faith and Holy Name came together and it seemed like anything and everything was possible.
Remember? Sounds from Sunday’s Miracle on Van Dyke.
So here’s what I’m thinking: Let’s meet at the park on Saturday, May 20, at 11 a.m. to plant some wild flowers, grill some hot dogs, and talk and pray about our future plans. Whatever it is — a renewal or a closure — I want to do it on Sunday, Sept. 24, in spectacular fashion at the church and the park. That date, Sept. 24, is the 10th anniversary of our very first park cleanup and barbecue
Remember? A Park Reborn.
In the meantime, think and pray on it, and please pass the word. I’ve lost track of so many people since this all started. I want their input, their support and their participation in either the beginning of something new or the end of something that could only be described as God’s work.