Month: July 2016

Harvesting Unity

“By the faith of a grain of a mustard seed, all things can be done.” It is worth repeating Auntie Na’s words of last year so we can marvel at all that has come to pass. Out of the ashes Auntie Na’s House returned stronger and more unified than ever. Our apologies for not posting a lot, but we have been hard at work throughout our (re)building process. The summer of 2015 was filled with fun, games, water, fishing, and more as we kept our babies entertained and off the streets. On the subject of fishing, Auntie Na’s babies refused to let us fry the fish they caught, prompting us to transform a 3-year-old sinkhole on the Eastside into a thriving fishpond ecosystem. The children and fish were thrilled; this city not so much. Upon the city discovering what we had done, the fish found themselves evicted. Nevertheless, “Two legs, four, flippers or fins, if you come through our gate, we’ve got you.” Auntie Na’s words rang true and we took the fish over to the Westside to stay. Toward the end of the summer, Auntie Na began rekindling her connection to Oberlin College in preparation for another school year of engagement and collaboration. Out of these conversations sprung Auntie Na’s Harvesting Unity (ANHU).

ANHU formed in the fall of 2015 as an Oberlin-based supportive organization that would help manage volunteers, communications and technology, fundraising, networking, research, and other efforts to expand Auntie Na’s House into Auntie Na’s Village. Auntie Na inspired this creation when she visited the campus in September for a talk and the group gained momentum through a fall break trip where eleven students spent a week in Detroit working alongside Auntie Na. Through our collaborative efforts ANHU…

– Led multiple weekend trips and a month-long trip to Detroit in January;
– Connected Auntie Na’s House to the internet and started a monthly newsletter;
– Raised over $13,000 from grants and individual donors;
– Connected Auntie Na’s House to numerous organizations, including Georgia Street Community Collective, which became our fiscal sponsor for 501(c)(3) tax status; and
– Researched new programming ideas for the center, ways to acquire more property, and ways to become our own 501(c)(3).

Those days weren’t always positive, of course. For instance, we learned in October of 2015 that the old Midwest Casket Company right next door to Auntie Na’s House was up for auction around $5,000. Through ANHU we were quickly able to raise the funds, but were outbid 8 minutes before the auction’s end by a real estate agent. The next thing we knew, the Casket Company – which would have been the perfect outlet for the expansion of Auntie Na’s House – was up for sale for $69,000. We persevered, however, eventually acquiring three vacant lots down the street for the expansion of our garden and tutoring program. We also manifested the energy to bring 50 cases of water to Flint during their time of crisis and began hosting our monthly Bazaars, where we bring together Detroiters offering everything from clothes to blood pressure checks, bicycles, bounce houses, face-painting, and more. Everything at our Bazaars is free.

As time went by, ANHU itself began to change. The focus shifted from what Oberlin College students could do at Auntie Na’s House to how power could be built in local communities around Detroit. ANHU came to stand for two things:

1) The transformation of Auntie Na’s House into Auntie Na’s Village – a space to ensure the self-sustainability of the community surrounding Yellowstone, and
2) The outreach to other organizations and individuals who have similar aspirations for their community and could learn from our successes and trials in furthering their dreams.

We dream of a unified Detroit with intergenerational grassroots community centers throughout the many communities of our city. We dream that these centers will know one another and treat one another like neighbors, supporting one another and amplifying our collective voices to address the powers that be. We dream of lessons throughout these centers for young and old that advance the, perhaps radical, prospect that they come first, before corporate power and profit, corruption and negligence. Our center may be small, but our dreams are grand, and we know that we are not the only dreamers. We stand in lines at food pantries every week scraping together the supplies to sustain our center and in those lines we hear our same aspirations echoed back to us. We speak to the people who hope for better things and have ideas, but whose ideas have always been shut down by conventional wisdom, by the status quo. Well, we’re here to encourage them to join us in challenging that status quo.

We are taking further steps in service of our dream by using one of the grants we received in the fall to launch our Peewee Planters Program. Through this program – named in honor of Auntie Na’s grandfather – we hired four 16 to 22-year-olds to work for our community center and our fiscal sponsor, the Georgia Street Community Collective. Through this time we encouraged them to light their sparks – those qualities they have or subjects that they are passionate about – ablaze and grow into young leaders in their communities. We taught them about the real history of their city, about the challenges we face and the ways we can move forward. We discussed the impacts of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, and more. We encouraged them to be team-oriented critical thinkers.

As we continue to harvest unity throughout Detroit, we encourage you to stay close to us in conversation and support. Please follow us at http://www.facebook.com/Auntie.Na.Harvesting.Unity or, better yet, stop by and say hi. All are welcome.

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