EMEAC officially receives donation of First UU Complex; announces opening of Cass Community Commons

August 22, 2011

DETROIT – The East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC) will officially assume responsibility for operation of the First Unitarian Universalist Complex on August 15 after the First UU Board formally donated the facilities to EMEAC in July. EMEAC’s plans for the complex include the creation of a Cass Community Commons consisting of fellow social justice minded community organizations and environmentally retrofitting the facilities while continuing to allow the First UU congregation full use of the worship and meeting facilities.
“Our vision is to transform the UU space into a multi-use facility and Detroit grassroots organizing hub,” said EMEAC Director Diana Copeland. “This Cass Corridor Community Commons space will embody the principles and values of the Unitarian Church and our environmental and social justice principles.”
Not only will the facility be used for First UU services and EMEAC administrative office space, it will also house several grassroots organizations which are partnered with EMEAC.”
Entrepreneurial ventures by collaborative partners in addition to meeting space for grassroots events and activities will also be accommodated. Some current tenants at the facility like the Sugar Law Center for Social and Economic Justice will remain at First UU. They will be joined by EMEAC partners like the Detroit Grassroots Cultural Arts Center, The People’s Kitchen Detroit, The Detroit Media Arts Cooperative, Whole Note Healing Space, and Fender Bender Detroit.
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,” said EMEAC Associate Director Lottie Spady. “Maintaining the structural expenses of a large building is a challenge, but its one that has been anticipated and we are planning accordingly. There will be many opportunities for the community to support this effort by way of events, campaigns, and outreach efforts. We hope that going forward community members would please consider connecting with EMEAC and First UU to share resources around the maintenance of this vital community resource.”
Experts in environmental retrofitting has been consulted to meet the task of environmentally retrofitting the facilities. We Want Green Too will begin the process by conducting an energy audit and complete building inspection. That information will be used in determining the specific renovations needed. EMEAC will then turn to its “green team” of experts specializing in green design and construction. The team includes Ken Moody & Associates, Community Green Builders and We Want Green Too along with individual experts like Architect Carlos Nielbock, green construction professionals Mutope A’Alkebu’lan, Cornelius Williams and Chazz Miller.
Further retrofits such as insulation, window fitting, heating, solar and geothermal options will be considered as well.
What excites me most are the many opportunities available to us now because of the facilities in the building,” said EMEAC Associate Director Ahmina Maxey. “The building has so many spaces that can be put to great use through the Cass Corridor Community Commons and the programming, events, and activities that will be offered.  These include a theater, kitchen, common room, etc.  
“I feel like we are bringing more life back into the walls of First UU.  The building has such a rich heritage and presence, being a place of celebrations, weddings, services, youth events, etc. and that energy is still present and reverberates in the walls. Although some of this activity may have slowed as of late, I'm excited to be blessed with the opportunity to bring this energy back to the building through our work.”
The EMEAC team sees the establishment of the Community Commons at First UU as a critical move toward ensuring that current residents and community-based organizations of the city have both a presence and a voice in the face of the rising tide of gentrification sweeping over what is now called Midtown.
This effort is made even more significant with the tide of gentrification that is flowing through the Cass Corridor, starting with its re-naming as "Midtown,” said Spady, a life-long resident of the city. “Businesses and entities that work specifically on behalf of the community, which stand to be displaced by these actions will be instrumental in the creation of economically sustainable areas. We are operating on the premise of community empowerment by lifting up the invisible capital that is deeply embedded in Detroit's history of resiliency, innovation, perseverance, and soul.”

Detroit Future Media Youth Program holds first gathering at Ruth Ellis Center

August 18, 2011

HIGHLAND PARK – A diverse group of over 50 Detroit youth, representing 12 community organizations attended the first gathering of the Detroit Future Media Youth Program on July 26 at the Ruth Ellis Center in Highland Park. The Ruth Ellis Center honors the life and work of the late Ruth Ellis who was one of the country’s oldest known "out" African American lesbians. Over the course of her 101 years, she was a pioneering activist for the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community in the Detroit area and beyond.

The Ruth Ellis Center is one of only four agencies in the United States dedicated to homeless LGBTQ youth and young adults. Among their services are a drop-in center, street outreach program, transitional living programs, and emergency housing shelter.

“The great thing was seeing youth who seemingly have little in common, relating to each other based on the similarity of their struggles and hope for the future,” said DFM Youth Program Coordinator Alia Harvey-Quinn. “Twelve organizations brought their youth out to support the event. We had over fifty youth of all different races, nationalities, attractional orientations, economic backgrounds and ages.”

Youth enjoyed pizza and social interaction before engaging in several workshop around identity and tolerance. The gathering was addressed by local LGBTQ activists Dr. Kofi Adoma and Michelle Brown before sitting down to a public screening of two films produced by and featuring Ruth Ellis Center Youth leaders. 

That was followed by a panel discussion on the films. The first film was titled “Put Yourself in Our Shoes” and aimed to reach people who have bullied, teachers, administrators, and community members. The second film, “I, You, We Are Not Alone”, targeted LGBTQ youth who have survived bullying in hopes of breaking isolation. 

“The most important part of this gathering was the exploration of identity and self image,” Alia said. “The workshop focused on the ways individual self image impacts community self image. When a community is proud of their self image even when society views their identity negatively, that can be a revolutionary act that transforms society.  The workshop uplifted commonalities, celebrated differences, and set the tone for a safe space for youth to be themselves.

“The event also featured a premier screening of a film that Ruth Ellis Center's Out and Upfront program created around the bullying crisis and how it impairs the educational experience of homo-attractional youth. It was inspiring to see young people stand up to correct an injustice that plagues the community.”

DFM Youth Coordinators said that the Ruth Ellis Center gathering set a positive tone going forward to their next gathering which will take place at Vanguard on August 27.

“One of our goals is to grow a youth led movement,” Alia said. “We'd love to engage youth in critical dialog around issues that affect their community and support them to really fight for change. This is one step down a long road of intersecting movements and building relationships across boundaries to ultimately work together for change.

“We are looking forward to more justice based media creation, more movement building, and more youth working together to transform our city.”

EMEAC SUSO's Youth team interns at Project South’s CPI

YEA Team members Siwatu Salama-Ra, Will Copeland,
Noel Frye, Knydra Jefferson, Paris Smith, Sharmin Salaam
and Roger Boyd at Project South in Atlanta
ATLANTA – A group of six Detroit youth participating in the EMEAC Stand Up Speak Out Program’s Youth Educators Alliance (YEA) attended the Community Power Institute (CPI) internship program sponsored by Project South in Atlanta last month. The YEA Team, led by SUSO Youth Coordinator William Copeland and Youth Leader Siwatu Salama-Ra, attended four weeks of intensive workshop training based on Project South experience and curriculum for young people ages 13-22.
The trip was excellent,” Copeland said. “Project South welcomed us fully and the YEA youth immediately stepped into various roles of facilitation, outreach, and discussion.  Towards the end of the trip, Project South was hosting a youth people's movement assembly on educational justice and the YEA youth were able to participate to a great extent in the planning for the assembly.”
The YEA team making the trip south consisted of Noelle Frye, Roger Boyd, Knydra Jefferson, Paris Smith and EMEAC Americorps intern, Sharmin Salaam. At the CPI, the group addressed the weaknesses of public and private school systems by engaging other young people with relevant history. They also learned community organizing skills in hopes of developing a new generation of leadership prepared for active participation in their communities and in organizing to bridge the generation gap.
CPI interns were responsible for variety of tasks related to the CPI; including research, popular education, facilitation, and development work. They also gained public speaking, community outreach/networking, administrative and grassroots fundraising skills.
The goals that were set for the Young Educators Alliance visit to Atlanta's Project South CPI and experience working along side one of our partner youth organization that suffer from many similar community issues that we face in the city of Detroit, and problem solve,” said the 20-year-old Salama-Ra. “The most rewarding part was to witness the CPI youth and Detroit’s YEA introduce "Educational Justice" to the community. We conducted dialogue around what is being taught in the schools and asked whether it's beneficial for the students to live their lives the way they are meant to be lived.
“Everything was youth led, from the planning to the actual facilitation of the workshops. Youth did everything from the registration table to the ending comment, and the serving of the food.”
While the trip fulfilled EMEAC’s goal of giving the YEA youth organizers an “out of the box” experience that allowed them a new view on youth organizing and social justice activism, Copeland said he is looking forward to seeing Detroit youth play a greater role in shaping the city’s future.
“I am hoping to bring back more techniques for youth leadership and youth organizing,” he said. “I hope that YEA in particular can become even more expressive of youth culture. I hope to bring the organizing of Up South Down South to EMEAC so that our whole organization can make effective alliances & partnerships with Southern social justice organizations. Lastly, I hope that participating in such a large project with as much energy as the Education Justice PMA can raise the ambitions of our youth towards bigger and bolder organizing efforts.”
For her part, Salama-Ra said she felt the group came away from Atlanta inspired and that the experience exceeded expectations.
“The trip to Atlanta was such a big success due to the meeting of the different young people who are passionate in creating a new world, a new system,” she said. “When closing the assembly, few of the ending comments between the Up South- Down south partnership was to take advantage of the resources we have to assist in making our jobs easier.
“We learned about writing proposals in our behalf, and looking towards long term goals. We learned about possibly founding our own schools that express the goals that came out from the Youth CPI PMA. We talked about principles from the students Rights Bill, and teachers having classes that touch on the different learning styles students have in supporting the goal of a full 100% graduation rate. These are just a few ideas coming from Detroit's YEA team and Atlanta's project South. This would be considered a next step and an over all goal for change in our school systems.

Detroit Future Media graduates first class of community educators, entrepreneurs and activists

DETROIT – Over 30 Detroit residents became the first class of graduates from the Detroit Future Media Workshops last Saturday in the Allied Media Projects Theatre. In all, 34 community members completed a total of 22 weeks in advanced specialized media training followed workshops in entrepreneurship, education or community organizing with the overall goal of building a community media economy in the city.

Three-hour classes twice a week in video production, audio engineering, web and graphic design made up the first part of the coursework. Students then completed the second half of the coursework designed to compliment their current occupations or career goals related to education, entrepreneurship or community organizing. Graduates are now charged to pass on those skills in the various communities of Detroit to create jobs, foster cooperative economics and support community based media organizing.

“There were so many challenges setting up this program at such an accelerated pace and not having a precedence in setting up a program like this – especially with the class structure that we decided on,” said DFM Program Coordinator Joe Namy. “We knew we wanted to make the classes as diverse as possible – intergenerational and inclusive of a variety of skillsets and backgrounds. It’s very hard to keep such a diverse group engaged and committed, but in the end I feel like this was our biggest success. This is what made the program so rich. We allowed for a space where our elders and youth and everyone in between could interact and engage each other all around media.”

Completing the education track were Isaac Miller, Joseph Rodriguez Tanner, Martha Obringer, Matthew Cross, Jason Graves, Triana Kazaleh-Sirdenis, Michael Polk, Renee Newman, Jason Graves, Dr. Conja Wright, Sanaa Green and Vanden Spady. Completing the entrepreneurial track were Amos White, Dr. Angela D. Allen, Barry Thomas, Dr. Charles Simmons, Craig Peterson, Deleana Hill, Eddi Gonzales, Fernando Parraz, Jon Blount, Karen Gates, Lydia Debnar, Matthew Love, Nathaniel Mullen III, Piper Carter, Sean Thomas, Stanley Kirk, Tiwana Carmichael and Tonya Warren.

Graduates of the social justice track were Corey McCord, Paul Abowd, Moudu Boqui, Rhonda Anderson, Sarah Coffey and Patrick Ali. Of the 34 participants, some only completed the media portion of the training.
Instructors in the various courses were Janel Yamashiro (web/education), Imad Hassan (video/education), Ron Watters (graphics/entrepreneur), Darren Vaugh (audio), Marisol Teachworth (education), Diana Nucera (entrepreneur) and Jenny Lee (social justice).

“It takes a special kind of instructor to be able to facilitate this,” Namy said."Our instructors have all said they learned as much as the students throughout this process."

Local activist, Rich Feldman attended both the opening ceremony for DFM and the graduation. He reflected on the accomplishments of the program, saying, “As I watched people's faces (graduates, family and friends) and felt their enthusiasm, I remember the filled room in February or March when we were just inaugurating this historic initiative. The sense of pride, the sense of accomplishment, the commitment to each other, the critical connections, relationship born and nurtured, the visioning of community and a responsibility to define our collective future was all present. It was special hearing the words, the clapping, the energy while seeing the graduation scarfs as a symbol of birthing of another dream moving hopes into reality." 

Detroit Future Media is a program under the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition. The DDJC is comprised of people and organizations in Detroit who believe that communication is a fundamental human right and works to secure those rights through activities grounded in the digital justice principles of: access, participation, common ownership, and healthy communities.

Namy added that the DFM’s first graduating class is only the first step in the program’s work to build a better future rooted in the idea of uplifting the citizens of Detroit’s inner city communities.

"We're currently working on our in-school program, placing some of the DFM participants as teaching artists working with 12 teachers in Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park. After this we will focus on our next round of workshops, which we expect to start around October/November. In the meantime we'll be having some additional community events, if people are interested in finding more about our programing they can email me and I can put them on our mailing list, joe@alliedmedia.org.

"We're also developing a web platform through which graduates of Detroit Future Media will have profiles and can market their curricula, trainings, goods and services to the wider Detroit community.  Keep checking detroitfuture.org to stay in touch with us."

CHIRP Grant awarded to eight community groups in Detroit

DETROIT – The Child Health Incubator Research Project (CHIRP) is a partnership of eight organizations working to challenge the food myths and social and economic realities that threaten to undermine the health and well-being of young children in Detroit. Members include Building Movement Project, Catherine Ferguson Academy, Creative

Community Pathways, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, East Michigan Environmental Action Council, Feedom Freedom Growers and People’s Kitchen Detroit and Oakland University’s Department of Psychology at Riverview Institute in Detroit.

CHIRP is supported by a five year $4.5 million grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Childhood Obesity Prevention Program.

CHIRP will create a vibrant learning community with innovative programming rooted in a holistic, justice-centered approach to eliminating childhood obesity in our community by drawing on members’ expertise in diverse areas such as environmental and food justice, food security/sovereignty, community development and self-determination, family and child development and achievement, nutrition and healthy child-friendly food preparation, critical media literacy and production.

“Typical strategies to address childhood obesity presume access to certain resources and information, that standardized interventions will be effective and that health can be defined by standardized measures without regard to culture, economic or social circumstances. In Detroit, we know otherwise,” said Principle Investigator and Project Director, Kerry Vachta of Oakland University.
“We know our children don’t always have access to what some communities may take for granted and that parents don’t always have the same options. But we also know there are resources here – from urban farms that provide affordable access to fresh organic produce to a plethora of child-centered institutions and extensive community and family support networks. Those resources create an entirely different potential health landscape for Detroit’s children than even many Detroiters are aware of.”

The goals of CHIRP are to surface and harness those resources; transform existing assumptions among and about Detroit families regarding food and health; recognize and challenge the inequitable distribution of risks and resources that plays such a critical role in the health of Detroit’s children; ensure every Detroit family has access to the best information, activities and resources to support healthy children; and to share what we learn locally and with communities across the nation in similar circumstances.

To that end, the group will also create a Handbook documenting the effective activities for distribution locally and nationally. An interactive map of the city will allow parents to enter a location and learn about resources that can support their efforts to create a healthy lifestyle for their children in their own neighborhood.

As Lottie Spady, Associate Director of East Michigan Environmental Action Council, explains, “We have so many pressures and so many demands that it’s important to learn how to integrate this information into our day-to-day lives.

“Somehow we’ve been convinced that maintaining that pace and our other obligations is more important than our health. We need to challenge those notions about what our priorities should be, about what we eat and how we live. To do that, we have to challenge what the media tells us about what is important and what is in the food we’re eating and feeding to our kids!”

Angela Newsom, Project Director for People’s Kitchen Detroit, points out, “Many of those ideas are myths – we can provide healthful food for our children and families in no more time than it takes to pick up fast food – and often at lower cost!”

Mrs. Newsom is a local chef who will help Detroit parents develop the knowledge and skills to create healthy, child-friendly daily meals. Ms. Spady’s program activities will foster critical awareness of the messages in popular media about food and health and empower young people to create their own media that tells their own food stories. Others will help young children and their parents develop skills to grow their own fresh produce, engage teens in mentoring to alter consumption preferences and trends among both teens and younger children, and improve access to fresh produce through Detroit’s food pantries.

Food Justice Taskforce debuts ‘Cook Eat Talk’ documentary and zine


DETROIT – Over 60 community members turned out to the historic Eastern Market on August 17 for the Detroit Food Justice Taskforce’s community screening of the “Cook Eat Talk” documentary and Cook Zine. Both the documentary and the brochure chronicle the work of the DFJT during the first-year planning phase of their work and leading up to a series of community engagement sessions aimed at addressing food security, sovereignty and justice issues in the future.
“I was very pleased with the number of folks that turned out – old faces and new,” said DFJT Administrator and EMEAC Associate Director Lottie Spady. “That really reflects the relationship building we’ve been doing over the past year and beyond.”
The screening was held at Shed No. 5 at Eastern Market. Community members enjoyed special food and beverages provided by DFJT Member, Peoples Kitchen Detroit. Peoples Kitchen also distributed copies of the latest Cook Eat Talk zine – version 3.0. The zine serves as a companion piece to the documentary and not only tells the story of the Food Justice Taskforce in words and stills from the documentary but also includes health conscious recipes from the community members and lists the 10 principles of food sovereignty.
“We wanted to share the story of the Food Justice Task Force and lift up some of the strategies that we’ve learned along the way,” said DFJT Coordinator Gregg Newsome of the Peoples Kitchen. “Cook Eat Talk is a community gathering facilitated and supported by Food Justice Task Force partners. Theses gatherings share a new strategy for mindful, respectful and mutually beneficial community engagement.
“For me, the emergent, non-prescribed format, was quite significant. I think that this was facilitated by our decision to embrace and celebrate each community’s invisible capital and honor their specific interests and self-identified needs.  Rather than entering communities with a cookie cutter program, Cook Eat Talk offers menus, choices and has a flexibility that communities and families need in order to establish a healthy relationship with food.”
Overall, DFJT members said they were pleased with the feedback from community members that attended the screening and look forward to the next phase of their work.
“I think they were received extremely well as seen by the number of peole that purchased zines,” Spady said. “We really wanted to make the zine assessable to everyone,
Some of the input that I got from the people that saw the documentary said that it brought the work to life better than a written report ever could. So, I was really pleased with how things went overall.
“Based on the community’s input gathered at each Cook Eat Talk session, the taskforce will be expanding into a network of community food justice hubs that will work on behalf of each community. We’re looking forward to that process and providing training and support to each of the local communities.”