Fifth annual Green Screen Youth Film Festival makes call for entries

September 21, 2011

DETROIT – Entries are currently being accepted for the upcoming fifth-annual Green Screen Youth Environmental Film Festival sponsored by East Michigan Environmental Action Council. 
Green Screen provides a forum where students from across southeast Michigan and beyond showcase short films with environmental themes. These films allow young filmmakers to express what they think is most crucial to their health and to the natural environment. Some films also focus on making the world, their school or neighborhood environmentally healthier.
“We are really hoping that the entries feature a wide range of environmental and environmental justice issues pertinent to Southeast Michigan and will show a deepening involvement of youth in these critical issues,” said EMEAC Associate Director Lottie Spady who also directs the ReMedia Program. “We also are looking forward to food justice having a larger presence based on the work being done throughout the city around food.”
The festival is a celebration of youth voice and emerging environmentalism.  The three-to-five-minute short films, created entirely by young artists and aspiring young activists, can span a range of environmental and social issues. 
The films are judged for cinematic merit, relevance to Southeastern Michigan, and creative messaging.  The panel of judges consists of independent directors, environmental activists, youth activists, and a journalists.  Now in its fifth year, EMEAC gets statewide inquiries about this exciting event, as well as requests for film making workshops and demonstrations year round.
“This is the 5th year anniversary of EMEAC’s Green Screen. We are looking forward to celebrating this fact with a gala “Green Carpet” event,” said Spady who has guided the festival since its inception. “Each year the number of participants has increased, and with the collaborations we continue to build, this year will reflect even more meaningful relationships.
“We are kicking off with a Green Room where we invite young people city-wide to participate in a fun get-to-know-EMEAC pre-Green Screen event featuring the Tap Water Challenge, Recycle Relay, and Environmental Media Mash Up”
Once the event itself begins, young people will enjoy a unique opportunity to share their creative vision around how to address some of the more pressing environmental concerns of the day. Over the years, Spady says she has also been inspired by how youth voice can effectively reach adults.
“The goal is to showcase youth environmental media in such a way that guests begin to understand the importance, value, and relevancy of youth voice in the environmental justice and food justice movement. Also, they are moved to further support this work through skill sharing, mentoring, and monetary donations,” she said. “We’ve come so far in the creation of youth media that is highlighted at the Green Screen, yet we could do more to inform the ongoing conversation by developing youth leadership.
“Our next challenge is to move the event beyond a once a year showcase, to increase the visibility of this body of work for citizen’s education so young people see more people that look like them as experts on environmental issues. We’d like to see youth become peer educators on the topics of air quality, waste management, water access and affordability, and food justice.”
The date for this year’s Green Screen is November 17. Exact details regarding the location and time are still being worked out. In the meantime, organizers are hoping that community support from local businesses and organizations continues to grow each year.
“There are many way to support the efforts of Green Screen,” Spady said. “Please consider sponsoring a movie, sponsorship of the event, food donations, or just come out and attend. We hope to build our membership and longstanding relationships through this work.”
Deadline for entries is November 1st, 2011. Anyone interested entering a film for Green Screen 2011, sponsoring a film, volunteering or making a donation of support should call 313 559-7498 or visit for Green Screen entry guidelines.

Community voices emerge loud and clear from recent EPA EJ Conferencence in Detroit

Lottie Spady and DeRaina Stinson present at the 2011
EPA EJ Conference at Wayne State University
DETROIT – In the midst of an all out assault against environmental and social justice protections through out the country, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) couldn’t have picked a more appropriate place or time to bring together citizens and community groups concerned about both environmental and social justice causes.  The EPA did just that on August 23-26 at the Detroit Renaissance Center and Wayne State University in the form of an Environmental Justice Conference, which if nothing else gave local citizens an opportunity to voice their concerns and strategies around these two critical issues facing the Detroit.

I would say at this point the portion that dealt with the "Detroit Story" was key,” said Rhonda Anderson, of the Detroit Sierra Club’s Environmental Justice Office and an organizer for the conference. “It was an opportunity for residents to speak to the issues of EJ from their perspective, to tell the story of EJ themselves, and lift their voice. This is the new age of media, social media, social justice and the people speaking their voice. It’s not someone else speaking for them.”

The theme for the conference was “One community. One environment.” It targeted community organizations, indigenous organizations, community members, community advocates, government officials, university level professionals, faith-based organizations, businesses and other stakeholders interested in learning about opportunities to work toward environmental justice in their respective communities.

Detroit Sierra Club EJ Officer Rhonda Anderson
gives an EJ Tour of Detroit
Topics of discussion during the conference were community capacity, strategies for addressing pollution sources, the Federal Interagency Working Group on EJ, environmental workforce development training and job creation, funding opportunities, Title VI Human Rights Delegation Agreements, an EJ Tour of the city, the role of youth and social media in EJ, and sharing tools and resources toward greater accountability. Still in a city like Detroit – disproportionately affected effected by EJ issues due to the combination of demographics and a worsening economy, EPA officials seemed caught off guard at times by the level of concern among local citizens and those from abroad.

“The first day with the EPA on the panel in the large open forum was highly charged with emotions,” said Maria Ryen, a graduate student at the University of Michigan who spent her summer interning with EMEAC’s ReMedia program. “There were a few hundred participants in the room with a few mixed panels that consisted of EPA staff and others. One of the initial speakers brought on some heavy criticism of EPA accountability, and from there it really became the topic raised by almost every person allowed to speak. Another man, representing indigenous communities in Alaska, came to publicly ask that they make cultural considerations in their actions with indigenous tribes in the state. Another woman representing Puerto Rico, questioned why the EPA was not involved in relief effort from floods of recent hurricanes, which were heavily contaminated with toxins and effecting largely poor and underserved communities.

“The second day, Grace Lee Boggs spoke to the very issue of government accountability when she said something along the lines of 'don't wait and don't rely on these government agencies and academics to help.’ She stressed that community organizers and local empowerment was really the key to battling successfully for environmental justice. After what I had seen the first day, I could really understand why.”

Anderson, who has been involved in community work for over a decade said she agreed that local activism and empowerment is the key to addressing local issues.

“I've attended many conferences over the course of my activist/work life.  While this one could have been better, it was rewarding simply because it dealt with the work I do around EJ,” she said. “Right now the EPA is faced with survival. With attacks from the Republicans and big industry, they are simply having to hold on.  I believe many of us will say that the EPA has been limited or restricted in the ways in which they assist EJ communities, but without the Clean Air Act, water and so on, what chance do we have to protect our communities?  
“As we strengthen our communication skills and media skills we will become more able of doing many of these things for our selves. Over the 11 years that I've worked here in the Detroit area, I've worked with a number of communities.  We created the E J Community Committee consisting of leaders in the communities where I've worked.  The purpose of the committee was to create a support system for the communities, to bring them together so that they do not stand alone.”

Panelist enjoy a break at the EPA EJ Conference
Anderson praised the work of local leaders like Jay Henderson, President of the Riverbend Community Association, Theresa Lewis, a leader in the Master Metal campaign, Vickie Burton of the Greendale/Drixdale Community Association, Rev. Sandra Simmons and Dr. Charles Simmons of Northwest Goldberg/Hush House. Anderson also cited the courageous work of Dr. Deloris Leonard, Theresa Landrum, Vincent Martin, Mr. & Mrs. Roland Wahl, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Lucille Campbell, and a host of other community leaders from the 48217 community, which was declared to be the third-most polluted area in the U.S. by a recent University of Michigan study.

The role of youth was not overlooked at the conference as EMEAC’s Associate Director Lottie Spady and ReMedia Environmental Justice Fellow DeRaina Stinson took part in a panel discussion on the role of youth and social media in the fight for environmental justice in Detroit.

“It was nerve wracking. I was kind of nervous; I have to admit,” said the 22-year old Stinson who also attends Wayne State. “We talked about social media and how the youth use media to do environmental justice work.
“We did a slide show and showed some of the movies that we’ve made with ReMedia. We talked about social justice in the context of the media and how youth use social media like twitter to connect. We just wanted to acknowledge what the youth are doing because that’s what is happening now.”

By the end of the conference, Ryen acknowledged that the informative panel discussions did provide significant benefits to attendees.

The following small panel discussions in the different tracks were really inspiring and it was clear that individual organizers, whether they had the EPA EJ or not, are extremely resourceful and amazing networkers,” she said. “Each panelist was able to give meaningful advice and even audience participants began small conversations on strategizing to solve obstacles that organizations were running into. If anything, I think the fact that the EPA provided a national forum where the government was present but allowed all these agencies to network was very meaningful in itself.”
Anderson added that she hopes that there were several positive lessons to be taken away from the conference. Not the least of which was that local organizations and community groups need to rally together now more so than ever.
“We could have worked more closely together. We could have approached the conference with a united front,” Anderson said.  “The only organization that went as a coalition was Zero Waste. What experience, skills, power can we pull together by working together?  Well, I see an awesome opportunity. EMEAC brings some awesome skills of media application, food justice, and youth.  The Ecology Center has Brad VanGuilder an expert with an awesome background and the skills of his co-workers. MEC and Sandra Turner Handy, have a strong background in politics, organizing and EJ. Southwest Environmental Vision, Detroiters Working for EJ, and the Green Door Initiative are faced with the same challenges along with the EPA. When we are shortsighted the community suffers, and that’s something I think we really should keep in mind going forward.”   

EMEAC Volunteer Appreciation Night coming up September 30

EMEAC volunteers like Ms.
Forshatta Scott will be
recognized on Sep. 30 
DETROIT – The East Michigan Environmental Action Council will be holding a special volunteer appreciation event on September 30 at 6 p.m. in McCollester Hall inside the Cass Corridor Commons spaces of the First Universalist Unitarian Church.

“We are appreciating the volunteers and supporters of EMEAC,” said EMEAC Community Partners Coordinator Kim Sherobbi. “We want to recognize all their efforts to help us become the community hub that we want to become. We want to honor them in terms of the support they’ve been giving us.”
In addition to special awards of recognition for the volunteer work done with the various EMEAC programs over the past year, the event will also feature fun activities such as performances, entertainment and refreshments.
“We will have some entertainment, music and possibly poetry,” Sherobbi said. “We will have food and drinks. We will also have some giveaways. I’m not sure if it’s going to be by raffle or by individual gifts yet. We’ll also have some acknowledgements of their work.”
All in all, the event will also provide an opportunity for EMEAC staff, partners, community members and volunteers to socialize and deepen their relations around the work of community building among people supporting the common cause of improving the overall environment in the city. It will also be an opportunity for EMEAC partners to familiarize themselves with EMEAC’s new location and mission of building the Cass Corridor Commons facilities at First UU.
“We want to introduce them to our new space and then enjoy each other’s space with some camaraderie and by getting to know each other not just as EMEAC staff and volunteers but person to person,” Sherobbi said. “That is going to be a day not only to honor them but also for them to get more familiar with what we do as an organization.
“That way they may be able to develop ways to volunteer further and help us in a capacity that they might not have before to help us serve the community better. Hopefully, we can provide an environment for them to contribute in ways that are just as good as what they had before if not even better.”

Detroit Future Youth make presence known at Earthworks Harvest Festival

DETROIT – Youth from the various programs affiliated with the Detroit Future Youth Program made their presence known from start to finish at the 2011 Earthworks Harvest Festival on September 17 at the Gleaners Food Bank Banquet Hall. The Harvest Festival began with a social hour and garden tours of the Earthworks facilities. It also include food stories by the Earthworks Youth Farmstand and closed with a special musical performance by the Rosa Parks Youth Violas and Violinists accompanying local hip hop artist Ilana “Invincible” Weaver, who is also a co-coordinator of the DFY Program.

“I think it went really well,” said Weaver’s DFY co-coordinator Alia Harvey Quinn. “It was youth lead and people definitely contributed to parts of the agenda. They got a chance to showcase the work that they were excited about, so it went well.”
That sentiment was shared by the Earthworks staff as several comments were made commending the increased youth presence at the event.

“It was huge. It’s unlike any of the other years that we’ve had,” said Earthworks Youth Program Coordinator Denis Rochac. “It’s becoming more and more young people oriented. I think that’s where the power should be. It’s a very powerful thing when we invite the youth to lead because they are going to lead this movement. They are the ones that are going to take us where we want to go.”

Earthworks is a program of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen whose mission is to create a just food system. Earthworks promotes sustainable agricultural practices, nutrition education, media justice with local youth and adult leadership for ownership of Detroit’s food system.

Youth Farm Stand member Makea (left)draws
a ticket during the raffle as Shane Bernardo
holds the raffle box.
The DFY Program, of which Earthworks is a member, is made up of twelve organizations that are committed to working together to strengthen and deepen youth social justice organizing in Detroit. The program facilitates trainings, gatherings and retreats between the twelve organizations so that the organizations can continue to focus on their work while also building relationships with the other partners in the program.
DFY got a first hand look at the operation as Earthworks youth led them on a tour of the organization’s facilities. The youth visited the Earthworks offices, the soup kitchen, gardens and hoop houses, which are green houses where various vegetables are grown in a semi-controlled environment.
See more of the DFY trip to Earthworks at
“Our young people led two groups and the tour went great” Rochac said. “It was really exciting to see our younger youth actually take those leadership roles and that they are really excited about the space they’ve done a lot of work in and grown up in.
“Our hoop house was a big hit. Everyone was able to harvest some tomatoes. Mostly I think everyone got excited about gardening and food sovereignty. We did a walk-the-line workshop around food sovereignty, and I think that really sparked some good discussions around access and who is controlling the distribution and the access around food currently. Hopefully we can make that paradigm shift because lot of the visiting youth had questions.”

After the tour, the youth made their way over to Gleaners where they joined the larger gathering for the rest of the program. The program included an introduction by Earthworks Youth Farm Stand members Makea and Quinn, a welcome by Earthworks Farm Manager Patrick Crouch, and a prayer by Father Jerry Smith, Executive Director of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. After dinner Julia Putnam of the Boggs Education Center led a discussion on youth leadership. That was followed by the Food Stories from the Farm Stand and a crowd-stirring closing with Invincible and the Rosa Parks Violas and Violinists.

DFY Coordinator Ilana "Invincible" Weaver and the
Rosa Parks Youth Violinists perform 
The Farm Stand is an entrepreneurship program that teaches youth between the ages of 12 and 17 how to grow their own food and sell it at local markets themselves. During the Food Stories, Earthworks youth shared an inter-generational oral history project that documents local history around food through interviews and storytelling.
“The Harvest Festival is more a friend raiser than a fund raiser,” Rochac said. “This is the time of year where we all come together. We invite all our friends to have a meal from the bounty of our garden. We ask our friends who are preparers of food to help us out with this party, and that’s what it is. It’s a party.”

Senior Engagement Program unites generations through gardening

Robin Massey gives a gardening presentation
during the Senior Engagement program at P3A
DETROIT – Gardening by nature is the science of making things grow, but in the context of EMEAC’s Greener Schools Senior Engagement Program, it is having the affect of shrinking the generational gap in Detroit. The Senior Engagement Program’s Gardening Angels are now entering its second year of existence, but if the success of its first year is any indication there is a harvest of intergenerational connections ahead for the students of Palmer Park Preparatory Academy and the senior gardeners from Hannan House.

“That’s been working out really well because the Hannan seniors have a gardening club and they have a garden,” said Senior Engagement Program Coordinator Priscilla Dziubek. “They also have transportation, so they’ve been coming over once a month to Palmer Park Preparatory Academy where we have a group of sixth graders that are working with them throughout the year.”

The program has consisted of P3A students meeting with the seniors to share oral histories of their gardening knowledge and experience, as well as hands-on gardening lessons. The hope is to transfer and preserve that knowledge and experience through recorded conversations with the youth. The students will then work with EMEAC’s ReMedia program to turn those oral histories into a special documentary or short film.

“We are doing oral histories using flip cameras. The students are asking the seniors about their lives from the time that they were kids,” Dziubek said. “They are asking them what their gardening experiences were and what it was like in the city of Detroit for them as young people.

“EMEAC's programs are now all meeting to determine how we can best leverage our capabilities and to figure out how we can best integrate all of our youth programs going forward. The Gardening Angels are definitely a part of that.”

Greener Schools staff with seniors 
The seniors in turn are volunteering their time to help students at P3A and Detroit Institute of Technology learn the how-to's of gardening. Rachel Jacobsen of Hannan Foundation, has been instrumental in bringing seniors from the Hannan Gardening Club, the residents of St. Martha’s Presbyterian Village of Michigan and the local communities to work with the students of both schools.

We have some sessions where the seniors give the lessons. We’ve had some sessions where the students give the lessons,” she said. “We've recorded quite a bit of the histories and we’ve been doing quite a bit of learning also.”

Blair Theatre being refurbished as part of the Cass Community Commons Space
D. Blair

DETROIT – Renovations are underway and volunteers are being sought to help with the refurbishment of the D. Blair Grassroots Community Theatre inside the new Cass Corridor Community Commons Space of the First UU Church. Renovations are under the direction of Oya Amakisi of the Detroit Grassroots Community Arts Theatre and will include refinished floors, repainted walls and state of the art equipment among other improvements.
“The Detroit Grassroots Community Arts Collectives believes in the beauty, strength and love of Detroit,” said Amakisi whose organizations has been a long time host of the Detroit Women of Color International Film Festival. “We are invested in being a positive asset to our community.  Imagine our new space with refinished floors, the walls painted, a state of the art stage and more.  The multiple decks add an eclectic look that allows flexibility in an intimate setting.”
Members of the Cass Corridor Community Commons chose to rename the theatre in honor of David Blair, an internationally renown spoken word artist, musician and activist who passed away in August. The theatre has a flexible multilevel space that can easily meet the needs of the types of diverse community-based gatherings commons members envision using it for.
The theatre will also be home to the Detroit Liberation Library. The library was started during the United States Social Forum held in Detroit in June of 2010.  People from all over the United States donated books focused on social justice, cultural arts and more.  
The library will also include adult literacy training, tutoring and computers for research and job searches. Lecture series and book signings from up and coming progressive artists and activists will also take place. The library will also host the Detroit Intergenerational Classes featuring seasoned activists from the labor, civil rights, and black power movements.
D. Blair Grassroots Community Theatre Director Oya
Amakisi, upper left, oversees work party in August
The theater will have visual, literary and performing arts.  The Commons envisions experimental plays, film festivals/presentations, workshops, lecture series, concerts, community forums, fundraisers and more being held at the theatre once refurbishments are complete.  Some examples of long-standing events that will take place in the revamped space will be the Children’s Fun Film Saturday, the Detroit Women of Color International Film Festival, EMEAC’s annual Greenscreen and jam sessions featuring some of Detroit’s top blues, hip hop, jazz, spoken word, rock, soul and classical music artists.
Since the theatre hardly been used in recent years, Amakisi says there is much work to be done. Work parties are being planned in the coming months and volunteers are needed.
“We need volunteers for our Working Party,” she said. “We will clean and paint.  Volunteers will get delicious snacks.  At night we will have a party featuring some of the top deejays in Detroit.  All volunteers get in free.  We will sell fish, chicken and vegetarian dinners, but we need volunteers for renovations and clean up.”
Anyone interested in volunteering for Blair Theatre work parties should email

School landscaping projects coming into fruition for the fall

Sign at outdoor classroom at Nsoroma

DETROIT – Work on four landscaping projects at four Detroit schools has been all but completed as the EMEAC Greener Schools Program closes out its Ugliest School Yard Projects at Palmer Park Preparatory Academy, Detroit Community Schools, Detroit Institute of Technology and Nsoroma Institute.
“Most of our projects were completed this summer,” said EMEAC Volunteer Coordinator Kim Sherobbi. “DCS and DIT were our newest projects. Of course, Nsoroma and P3A projects that were started last year, didn’t need as much work done at the end of the school year. The other two schools were a little more labor intensive, but all of them have gone well.”
The projects at the elementary level schools, P3A and Nsoroma, involved the construction of an outdoor classroom space as an alternative learning environment for students and teachers. The projects also included other environmental enhancements. For instance, volunteer Eddie Stucky helped students at P3A build sitting benches and a trellis will be added to the outdoor space this fall.

At Nsoroma, an Afro-centric charter school, environmentalism and alternative learning models are nothing new. Sherobbi says she’s hoping that the school’s new outdoor space will fit nicely into the school’s cultural context.
Lizzy Baskerville works with a DIT student this summer
“Nsoroma often uses space outside the school walls to conduct classes and they were doing that before EMEAC got involved, so to actually have a space which was created and implemented by the students is something special for them.
At Nsoroma, they walk in the morning in meditation. It’s usually in quiet but sometimes it’s in conversation. It’s important for their students to can connect with nature and get centered. Along this walk, the students created a meditation path which includes an outdoor classroom. The art teacher assisted her students in creating a sign for the outdoor space.

At both P3A and Nsoroma, MES Lab instructors Sanaa Nia Joy and Priscilla Dziebuek encourage teachers to use the outdoor classroom so students can enjoy the environment and nature while learning.

The high school level projects at DSC and DIT involved projects that were likewise designed to enhance the atmosphere of the respective schools.
Sign at Palmer Park Academy
“DIT students who participated in the project wanted to change the appearance of their school entry way,” Sherobbi said. “They wanted their peers to start school in a positive frame of mind and hoped that the landscape design would help.”

Meanwhile at DSC, the students decided to go with a project that brought back a piece of the school’s past journey to its present location.
“DCS built a beautiful gazebo,” said Sherobbi. “They only have a few finishing touches to add to it. They had a gazebo at their former school building and I think they miss that gazebo so they used their money from the Ugliest School Yard to build a new one.
“DCS did most of their work. They are pretty self- sufficient. (Former Greener Schools Director) Lizzy Baskerville did a lot of work with them over the summer. They just wanted to add to their landscape and beautify. In the process, the students picked up lessons in math and science and also in working with each other.”
In the process of recapturing that lost piece of their past, students often found knowledge that will help them build their future.
“When I was talking to one of the administrators, Candyce Sweda at DCS, told me a story about a young man who learned a math lesson,” Sherobbi said. “Ms. Sweda had explained to him the importance of using calculations and getting measurements. At first, he was like, ‘Oh I can do it.’ So, she kind of let him do his thing. Then afterwards when he couldn’t quite get it done properly, he look at here and said, ‘Oh. I guess that’s why we are supposed to measure.’
There are all kinds of stories that were coming up throughout the process. There are some lessons in terms of how do we really make sure that community is a more an integral part of the process. There is some ownership in the schools and community but from everything I’ve heard that is something we may need to spend a little bit more time on.”

Cass Corridor experiment would save a church and mitigate gentrification's excesses

September 6, 2011


A commons idea

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

A commons idea for the Cass Corridor
The Cass Community Commons flies in the face of convention on a couple of counts. For one, the newly created enterprise in the First Unitarian-Universalist Church's three-building complex at Cass and Forest embraces the name and sensibility of the old Cass Corridor just as the rebranding of the area as Midtown seems to be taking off. 
Another unconventional aspect is how the commons was created. The UU, which has been struggling with dwindling membership and economic woes for years, gave its three-building complex to the East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC), which organized the commons. Giving away prime real estate nestled between Wayne State University and the Medical Center is an unusual and probably desperate move to save the church, but it just might work. Part of the deal is that the church can continue to meet and have services in the sanctuary, and as a member of the commons community the church has a say in future choices about the facility.
"The idea of handing over so much value struck some church members as odd. It was a big decision," says Robert Johnson, a church board member. "There is a chance for a lot of symmetry here. The UU church is focused on social justice issues. EMEAC is a social justice organization as well.
"We're getting back to being a church rather than a group that maintains a church. There's so much potential."
All that potential came into focus when the church put out a request for proposals to take over the facility. EMEAC's proposal struck a chord with the church board and membership, which voted in favor of the transaction earlier this summer. 
The Cass Community Commons also speaks to a point of contention that has smoldered beneath the veneer of development in the area: How do you accommodate the new with those who were there already and hung in through the worst of times? EMEAC, for example, had offices on Canfield in the Medical Center area but development "priced us out of being there," says Lottie Spady, associate director of EMEAC.
"That is one of the reasons why we were so hopeful for this project, to be a community anchor and community hub," Spady says. "Gentrification is happening alarmingly fast. There is Midtown, which is good in and of itself, but those business owners don't necessarily look like the people who have been there of long standing. Goodwell's, the Spiral Collective — how are they going to survive the gentrification that is washing through the corridor now?" (Goodwell's is a grocery, and Spiral includes an art gallery, a bookstore and other enterprises.)
Maybe the commons will make a difference for some of the ground-level entities. The commons spiritually embraces the whole area, and it will house a number of progressive enterprises. The Sugar Law Center has offices there, and entrepreneurial ventures such as Detroit Grassroots Cultural Arts Center, the People's Kitchen Detroit, the Detroit Media Arts Cooperative, Whole Note Healing Space, and Fender Bender Detroit (a bicycle venture) are all in the mix or expected to move in. There are plans for a multimedia collective, a theater space and youth summer camps. 
"We are creating a common space for the movements around social justice, food justice, environmental justice and digital justice to educate, strategize, and strengthen the underrepresented and unrepresented voices of our youth, elders, communities of color, and those that differ in their orientation and abilities," Spady wrote on EMEAC's website. "Maintaining the structural expenses of a large building is a challenge, but it's one that has been anticipated and we are planning accordingly."
Much of this is old hat for the church building. The UU has always been a progressive force in Detroit. It championed liberal religious freedom in the 1800s, and supported the civil rights and anti-war movements of the last century. Viola Liuzzo, the civil rights activist killed in Alabama in 1965, was a member of the congregation. In the 1960s and '70s and '80s the Cass City Cinema collective screened independent films there, the Community Concert Series featured local artists' performances and the Detroit Lesbian Organization held meetings and social gatherings there. Although he only rented the space, Alice Cooper rehearsed his Killer album in the church basement.
Activist-philosopher Grace Lee Boggs held her book release party there in the spring and the memorial for poet-musician David Blair was held there in July. So the community is already used to attending events there. In fact, some of the church members are already active in some of the organizations moving into the commons.
EMEAC has a "green team" that has inspected the historic buildings and has a plan to retrofit them and make them more environmentally friendly. Potential changes include windows, insulation and heating elements. The organization is exploring solar and geothermal options. The church house was built in 1891, the sanctuary in 1916 and the classroom building behind them was built in stages from the 1930s through the 1950s — so it's going to take some work to modernize the facilities. I lived and worked in the building as a caretaker from 1976 to 1983, and I still wonder how much asbestos I might have inhaled working in crawl spaces and the like. 
So there's plenty of change in the air for the space. The plan is for it to be a true community that shares resources rather than a group of discrete businesses. 
"It's built around the concept of the commons, the things that we collectively own in community," says Spady. "I was baptized there as a Unitarian. One of EMEAC's founders was very much so involved. There were a number of folks that we worked with in various activist organizations who were involved there. We intentionally went back to the Cass Corridor concept. There is a piece of history there. ... It's a manifestation of the relationships that we've been growing over the past several years. This is the realization of a dream. The conversation started at the [2010] Social Forum about the need for a justice hub, a community beehive of activities that can be fed in all kinds of ways, emotionally, socially. This is in many ways the outcome that is supposed to happen when you work with community."
I love the idea, but there is one thing I hope doesn't change. There is a gate and a wall in the church driveway that a partner and I built in the summer of 1978. Every time I pass there I look at it and think, "I built that." It's a little personal legacy that I'm proud of. The EMEAC folks say they're thinking about what to do with the space behind the gate. If their plan necessitates taking it down, I'll be disappointed but I can live with it. Community building is more important.