Blog: Sarah Szurpicki

Sarah Szurpicki is a Detroit area native and Co-Founder of the Great Lakes Urban Exchange (GLUE), an online networking and journalism effort to build regional identity and share information among young urban leaders from cities around the Great Lakes region. Sarah will be writing about how our region can benefit from exploring solutions that have been implemented in cities facing similar challenges.

Post No. 4

My last two posts discuss potential solutions to some of Detroit's challenges that require a level of "top-down" support. Average community members can't access financing tools; organizations like the Elmwood Village Association couldn't get off the ground without the support of business owners.

Those among us who lack direct lines to decision-makers can hold our leaders accountable and find ways to get heard, whether by attending neighborhood meetings, voting, creating coalitions, or using the press. We have a responsibility to become educated enough about these top-down tools to recognize when they're being used incorrectly.

Too frequently, though, top-down change takes too long.  In Detroit, more insidious and pervasive problems require urgent and "bottom-up" action.

A movement taking place in a sister Great Lakes city reminds me that, no matter how disenfranchised and impoverished our citizenry, we still have tools for change-making.

GLUE team member Luqman Abdus-Salam is one of the founding members of One HOOD, a coalition of youth leaders from predominantly African-American neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. At the heart of their mission: solidarity against the gun violence that decimates the population of young black men in primarily black, urban neighborhoods.

One HOOD began when about twenty community leaders decided to witness against violence, by walking the streets together at 11:00 pm in the historically African-American, and historically poor and disenfranchised, Homewood District of Pittsburgh. According to Luqman, when they began this effort in 2006, policemen offered to escort them. The officers were gently told that they were not needed.  Now they walk monthly, and are considering expanding their patrols to other neighborhoods. 

When they walk, One HOOD members are greeted by residents; grandmothers come out on their stoops, people stop and talk to them. One HOOD claims that zero incidents of violence have been reported in Homewood on the nights they've witnessed.

Luqman told me, "One HOOD is a coalition of a diverse set of youth leaders with different spheres of influence. This diversity is how we maximize our impact." One HOOD operates with no hierarchical membership, no board of directors, no funding at all. They've been offered foundation support, but turned it down, for fear that funding would make them susceptible to outside influence as they determine their long-term direction. They know that their power stems from other resources: integrity, honest and brave leadership, and strength through community.

What Detroit currently lacks in financial resources, it must make up for with those more vital and more powerful characteristics. Fortunately, they're easier to come by than money.