People’s Festival offers Hope By Shea Howell


People’s Festival offers Hope

By Shea  Howell

 In Detroit sometimes you can step into the future. There are moments when the best of who we have been and who we hope to be come together. The People’s Festival last Saturday was  such a moment.

 More than 600 people gathered on Detroit’s East Side to celebrate community. People were called to “join the voices of hope and commitment, to share ideas on re-imagining Detroit neighborhoods, developing new kinds of work, building sustainable houses, creating local economies, and ‘putting the neighbor back in the hood.’”

 Neighborhood residents, faith congregations, community groups, businesses and non-profit organizations gathered on the grounds of Genesis Hope church at Mack and East Grand Boulevard. Nearly 40 groups filled the huge tents, sharing information on composting, making applesauce, healing, conflict resolution and the history of housing in the region.

 Food and drinks were all free, donated by local groups. Along with traditional hot dogs, people sampled home-made ice cream, pies, brownies, cookies, honey and snacks. Grand Dad’s sweet tea was a great success.

 The festival emphasized East Side assets. Carmen Rembert, one of the organizers, said 33 churches, organizations and businesses were invited, giving them a chance to learn about one another and East Side residents a chance to learn about them. “The goal was to bring  congregations together; to determine our  community assets and resources and join them,” Rembert said.

A combined church choir offered opening songs. Poetry and spoken word filled the air along with the laughter of children from the baseball game, face painting and inflatable play area.

 Gloria Lowe, one of the festival organizers , said, “We are here to do all we can to help create a new beginning for us and all of Detroit, as we create the ‘Beloved Community’right here on the East Side of Detroit.”

 The space was filled with a loving spirit . Everyone contributed to it and felt it. The children were free to run, laugh and have ‘safe’ fun because the community had their eyes on them.  We did what so many thought couldn’t be done, and we tried to tell them.. “YES, WE CAN!”

 This spirit and  word of the work we do will spread, and next year more will come.

I was at the festival the entire day and three things stood out for me. . First, there were the spontaneous moments of connection and reconnection. One woman found her favorite high school teacher, whom she had not seen in nearly two decades, leading the combined church choir. Strangers gathered together to talk quietly in corners inside  the tents.  Some of them shared music, offering mini-concerts for all of us. People connected and reconnected,  renewing ties that time and distance had severed..

 Second, I saw children run with wild, carefree confidence in a space where they were protected and valued.  Throughout the day I never heard a voice raised by an  adult  to discipline a child.

 Third, I saw  a group of young black men in their early teen years look for and find their own way to become fully engaged in the festival. A little too old for the playscape,  these young men began to help the older men and women secure tents, move stages, unload sound equipment, carry ice, set up tables, bring hot dogs to elders, move garbage cans, pick up  recyclable water bottles. Their only question was “What else can I do to help?”

 The People’s Festival demonstrated  how much that is positive and life-affirming is going on in our communities.  But it also reminded us how much  our young people long to be of use.