Photo essay: What do you love about living in Ypsi?

This past weekend, Concentrate set out to take a closer look at the strong sense of pride that many Ypsilanti residents feel for their community. We spent Saturday at the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival in Riverside Park and Parkridge Summer Festival and Joe Dulin Community Day at Parkridge Community Center, asking the Ypsi and Ypsi Township residents there what they love about the place they call home. Here's what they had to say:

Mark Greenwood at Ypsilanti Heritage Festival.

Name: Mark Greenwood

Lives in: Ypsilanti Township (West Willow)

Backstory: He (and his 11-year-old parrot, Izzy) are members of the Rainbow Feathers Bird Club.


What do you love about living in Ypsi? "I have a lot of Ypsi pride. My kids all went to Ypsi schools. We've lived here a long time. All my kids have been born, raised, and grown up here, and I've been native and raised and grown here all my life."


"I try to get involved in everything and every event. I go to the parades, I go to the festivals. Anything that they have to offer, I try to take part in it."

Loviesa Brown at Parkridge Summer Festival.


Name: Loviesa Brown

Lives in: Ypsilanti (South Side)

Backstory: She's a member of the Parkridge Summer Festival committee and works at Parkridge Community Center. She is a lifetime Ypsi resident, born and raised on Armstrong.


What do you love about living in Ypsi? "It's very small, so everybody knows everybody. If I don't know you, I probably know your auntie and your uncle and their kids and kids' kids, so everybody connects some kind of way. Generations after generations are born and raised here in my family. It's a great thing."

Cherisa Allen at Parkridge Summer Festival.


Name: Cherisa Allen

Lives in: Ypsilanti (South Side)

Backstory: She's a member of the Parkridge Summer Festival committee and works at Parkridge Community Center. She also works as a social worker at Ypsilanti High School. She's a lifelong resident of Ypsi's South Side.


What do you love about living in Ypsi? "I enjoy the community. I enjoy the people. I enjoy the laughter. I enjoy the way it's coming back to life and renewing friendships, because that's what we're doing. Me and Loviesa, we knew each other growing up in school and came back working together on the committee. We're having fun."


"It's a small town, small family feel. Like [Loviesa] said, we know everybody. We all know somebody. If we don't know them by a nickname, we know them … She'll know their nickname and I'll know their government name."

Max Chisholm at Ypsilanti Heritage Festival.


Name: Max Chisholm

Lives in: Ypsilanti Township (near Ford Lake)

Backstory: He's lived all over Ypsi for the past seven years.


What do you love about living in Ypsi? "I came here to go to Eastern and loved it so much that I never left. It's just a really cool town. Really cool people. Super accepting of all sorts of people."


"Every aspect of this city just makes me happy. It just comes from living here and loving it here. I feel like I've experienced all different parts of the city, and it's great."

Jermaine Dickerson at Parkridge Summer Festival.


Name: Jermaine Dickerson

Lives in: Ypsilanti (off of Golfside)

Backstory: He was manning a booth at Summer Fest to promote the upcoming comic-con that he founded, Hero Nation.


What do you love about living in Ypsi? "I think Ypsi is a place of opportunity. It's a place where people have a lot of drive. They want to see changes being made. A lot of good people, well-intended, kind-hearted people really believe in the betterment of the community and even the world. I think that when we work together collectively, like we're doing here today at the Parkridge Summer Fest, and even in the other initiatives like the Riverside Arts Center or other programs and festivals, we get to really see exactly what we can do together, especially once we start doing something to build bridges. I think that's what makes Ypsi so great."

Evan Sweet at Ypsilanti Heritage Festival.


Name: Evan Sweet

Lives in: Ypsilanti (East Prospect Park)

Backstory: He's on the board of the Ypsilanti Senior Center.


What do you love about living in Ypsi? "I like living in Ypsi because it's very diverse. It's very different. It's one-of-a-kind, I think, and it's very community-based. A lot of things are happening. It's a lot of citizen-driven things that are pushed forward and done. It's just a great place to live."

Gillian Ream Gainsley and her son Alex at Parkridge Summer Festival.


Name: Gillian Ream Gainsley

Lives in: Ypsilanti (downtown by the Ugly Mug/Cross Street Coffee)

Backstory: She is the communications coordinator at the Ypsilanti District Library.


What do you love about living in Ypsi? "My favorite thing about Ypsi is just how community-oriented it is. I feel like everyone that I meet who lives in Ypsi genuinely cares about the town. They're excited to live here, and they're excited to meet other people from Ypsi and to make it a better city. It's really easy to get kind of swept up in the enthusiasm here."


"I think it has good bones, when you look at the city. We've got the river. We've got this incredible historic downtown. We've got all of this incredible history, between the African-American history and how Ypsilanti was really a strong center of African-American activity even before the Civil War, through the automotive history ... And then just the way that it's changed and has been a center of different communities coming together, whether it's industry, or arts, or food, or education, or medical. There's just a whole lot of different things going on."

Leaha Dotson at Ypsilanti Heritage Festival.


Name: Leaha Dotson

Lives in: Ypsilanti (downtown)

Backstory: She works at the Ypsilanti Food Co-op and has lived in Ypsi for almost four years.


What do you love about living in Ypsi? "I've worked at three different local places. I work at the co-op right now; I used to work at the Coney up by EMU. I've come to meet just about everybody in town, so I can't walk down the street without running into friends. It's a small community feel. We also have this underground food culture, music culture, stuff you don't find other places. It's not a cookie-cutter place. It's a unique spot that you're not going to find elsewhere."

Aerica Hurt, her brother Victor Swanson, and her sister-in-law Yolandus Swanson at Parkridge Summer Festival.


Name: Aerica Hurt

Lives in: Ypsilanti Township

Backstory: She grew up on the south side of Ypsi. Her brother, Victor Swanson, owns the restaurant A Taste of Soul, and her family members have helped at the restaurant since it first opened 15 years ago. Her aunt is Ypsi city council member Lois Richardson.


What do you love about living in Ypsi? "We have a lot of family here and then friends who have become family. So it's a lot of intermixing of families because we have family who are married to other families, which kind of bonds all of the families in Ypsilanti together. A lot of them migrated from a lot of the same places in the south, like Alabama."

Aaron Bedell at Ypsilanti Heritage Festival.


Name: Aaron Bedell

Lives in: Ypsilanti (downtown)

Backstory: He moved several years ago to Michigan from New Mexico and eventually settled in Ypsi.


What do you love about living in Ypsi? "I love how it has a small-town feel but is still like a larger city. I love the community feel that we have here. We're a very tight-knit community. I love the fact that there's not Starbucks and McDonald's and all these other things on every corner here."

Lakrecia Brooks at Parkridge Summer Festival.


Name: Lakrecia Brooks

Lives in: Ypsilanti (South side)

Backstory: She interns at the women's clothing store Love at First Try and she has her own clothing business for kids called Kidz Couture. She has lived in Ypsi her whole life and remembers attending Summer Fest when she was growing up on the South Side.


What do you love about living in Ypsi? "I like how the community comes together. [Parkidge Community Center executive director] Anthony Williamson plays a big part of that. When I grew up, he really did a lot of stuff with us, and he's continued doing the same thing. That's one of the main things about him. He does all this to bring everybody together. I really like that about Ypsi."


"This is where I'm from. This is where I grew up. This is a big part of me. Maybe when I get older I might want to travel and go somewhere else, but this is where I'm from. I mean, I want to represent my area. I want to bring other people here so they can see what Ypsi's about."

Amanda Mayer at Ypsilanti Heritage Festival.


Name: Amanda Mayer

Lives in: Ypsilanti (College Heights)

Backstory: She is the vice co-chair of visibility for the Washtenaw County Democratic Party.


What do you love about living in Ypsi? "I love living in Ypsi because there's so much diversity. I feel like you can just be yourself in Ypsi. I don't feel like that most places. You have to worry about your image in a lot of places and I feel like Ypsi is just so live and let live. Do your own thing. Also [the people in Ypsi] are there for you. I know so many people in Ypsi that have just come here and found a community immediately, right off the bat. I've been someone that had that happen to me and I've also extended that to other people ... There's a lot of people that care a lot. There's a lot of people with different views and religions and interests and all the things you could possibly look for. There's something for everybody in Ypsi."

Lemont Gore at Ypsilanti Heritage Festival.


Name: Lemont Gore

Lives in: Ypsilanti Township (near Ford Lake)

Backstory: He was living in Ann Arbor and working in Ypsi Township when he moved to Ypsi about five years ago for cheaper rent. He is the street outreach coordinator for UNIFIED – HIV Health and Beyond, which he was manning a table for at Heritage Fest.


What do you love about living in Ypsi? "The people in Ypsi are really open and friendly. It's a diverse community where I live. We have students, we have seniors, we have people on fixed incomes. People seem to get along. I'm not saying that's exclusive to Ypsilanti, but I like it."


"In large part, the diversity [sets Ypsi apart from other communities]. I've been around this state and sometimes I'm sort of depressed by the lack of diversity that I find in other areas."

Amber Fellows at Ypsilanti Heritage Festival.


Name: Amber Fellows

Lives in: Ypsilanti (Depot Town, close to EMU)

Backstory: She's lived in Ypsi for 14 years and is an organizer for Defend Affordable Ypsi.


What do you love about living in Ypsi? "Ypsi is a great community. It's also somewhere that I moved to because it had a lot of things that I was looking for. It had a college, it was affordable, [and] it had a great creative community as well. I think that it was very accessible for a lot of people for a long time. It was a great place to be."


"There are other communities and cities like Ypsi in that it has a dual relationship with a bigger college town next door and it kind of has a 'black sheep' mentality a little bit or at least is characterized that way. What I like about it is that it's small enough to where everybody knows each other, but also small enough to where you have to respect each other and work together, even with your differences. There is definitely a groundswell of really radical activism that happens in this area too, due to the intersections of working-class people and people of color and single kind of adults that want to grow in a community with other people and not necessarily go to the suburbs and have a family."

Teresa Gillotti at Parkridge Summer Festival.


Name: Teresa Gillotti

Lives in: Ypsilanti (Prospect Park)

Backstory: She is the housing and infrastructure manager for Washtenaw County.


What do you love about living in Ypsi? "I live on Forest and Prospect and I love that I can walk to the park, downtown, Depot Town, food, farmers markets. I just like that I can get around and I invariably run into somebody I know or I meet somebody new. It's super friendly. It's a great sense of community that's grown up and it welcomed me in in a way that not a lot of places have."


"I think that people are usually really open and so there's like this low barrier of entry. So whether you want to start a business, whether you want to be on city council, whether you want to be on a board, you want to do whatever you want to do, I think that people are up for it. ... And I think that you don't get that everywhere. Some people are a little more proprietary, but Ypsi's a place where you can try out your ideas and do something different."


Brianna Kelly is the embedded reporter for On the Ground Ypsi and an Ypsilanti resident. She has worked for The Associated Press and has freelanced for The Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business.


All photos by Doug Coombe.

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