How two women in Detroit neighborhoods are bridging the city’s divide
Stateside’s conversation with Rose Gorman and Sonia Brown
In Detroit, places like Downtown, Midtown, and Corktown are changing a lot. Investments are flowing and an influx of white residents is moving in. There are many new businesses, restaurants, and other establishments in these areas. However, this is not the case in many older neighborhoods, where the majority of the population is still African-American.
Rose Gorman and Sonia Brown are both working to bridge the gap between these “two Detroits”.
Gorman lives and works in the Tuxedo Project on the west side of the city. When Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stephen Henderson found the home he grew up in on Tuxedo Street abandoned in 2012, he turned the space into a creative writing hub. As a Resident Fellow, Gorman leads courses for teenagers and adults, facilitates reading and discussion groups, and helps distribute books from the library.
“The Tuxedo Project acts more like a community center than a literary center,” said Gorman.
Brown – known to many as “Aunt Na” – works with the Kresge Foundation and Wayne State University. She has set up a health clinic, pantry, clothing distribution center, and tutoring center called “Aunt Na’s House”. The “village,” as Brown calls it, is on Yellowstone Street on the west side of Detroit.
“Our programs are based on the community. It started by trying to help some young mothers in the ward with daily life and responsibilities: clothing and food, “Brown said.
Now the program is helping in a variety of ways, including babysitting for children, providing educational opportunities, and greeting neighbors.
Brown began working in the house where her grandparents raised her. She is now raising grandchildren in the same house after raising her own children there.
“So when I say that I have been embedded in this Yellowstone cornerstone for generations, my roots are as deep as many of those old trees that still stand on this Yellowstone cornerstone,” she said.
The neighborhood Brown lives in was once considered an upper middle class area. Today, she says, the area is mostly filled with abandoned houses and closed schools. A few blocks down on Tuxedo Street, the situation is similar.
“This idea of two Detroits is so big. It’s a really big deal, ”said Gorman. When her creative writing classes were held in midtown or downtown, she said people from the West Side community don’t come. Gorman says part of this has to do with not having access to transportation, but she says there is also a belief that the programs held in these areas are not meant for them.
Brown says feelings are common in her neighborhood.
“For the most part, many of us feel displaced. We feel like the city where we once had a place chased us away, left us behind, didn’t involve us as much as they’d like to believe. ”
Brown says the work she and Gorman are doing is a good place to start in bridging this gap.
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