Heart of Detroit: 'Neighbors Building Brightmoor' fight back, erase blight

Neighbors Building Brightmoor has helped create 35 urban gardens

Author: Mitch Albom
Published On: Oct 03 2013 05:40:00 PM EDT   Updated On: Oct 04 2013 12:17:50 PM EDT
Neighbors Building Brightmoor
DETROIT -

Nothing says neighborhood quite like a park with a swing set. But one park in Brightmoor didn't always look so good.

Cleo and Nicki Anderson are longtime residents of Brightmoor, sometimes described as the worst neighborhood in Detroit.

"Nobody came over here. I don't even think the animals in the woods would come out here," said Cleo.

"The deer, Bambi didn't even come out here," said Nicki.

"The animals were scared to come through?" asked Mitch Albom.

"Yep," said Cleo.

A few years ago, Cleo and Nicki might have agreed that Brightmoor is the worst neighborhood in Detroit.

"The drugs the prostitutes. The people just didn't care anymore that they let their house go," said Nicki. "Some of them just had to run away from it in foreclosure."

Then one day, Nicki saw a few volunteers working in a vacant lot.

"I said, 'What are you all doing?' and they said, 'We are about to put in a new park,' and I said, 'For real?' I said, 'I have three able bodies in this house so knock on the door,'" Nicki said.

That became the seed of Neighbors Building Brightmoor. Residents like Cleo and Nicki united to fight back and erase blight. Like building a youth park, which is great for kids like their son, Donovan.

"Since the park has been built, I've made a lot of friends," said Donovan.

Neighbors Building Brightmoor has helped create 35 urban gardens. There's been an arts initiative. Even a youth garden, where kids act as the farmers and the vegetables are grown and sold. All this has helped stem the tide of decay and abandonment in Brightmoor.

"We was [sic] having people move out the neighborhood almost one or two people a week, but then we started seeing people that was, you know, coming in to volunteer and now, you know, we are actually seeing a very, very big change," said Cleo. "We police our own neighborhood, we cut our own grass, we tear down houses."

Turning neighborhoods around is the best hope for our city's future. Nothing symbolizes hope more than what this park once was, to what it is today. Cleo, Nicki and their neighbors building Brightmoor are showing the healing power of change here in the heart of Detroit.