When Stephanie Young, president of the Rosedale Park Improvement Association, thinks about ways to celebrate her 22-year-old son’s graduation from college, she also thinks about Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and other Black Americans who have died at the hands of police.
Young said it could have been her son.
At his private college, security guards required him to show identification every day. He was often asked, ‘Do you belong here?’ as he walked from campus buildings to his dorm room.
The Detroit native has another son who will begin his senior year at Michigan State University this fall.
George Floyd died on May 25 after a Minneapolis Police Officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes, preventing Floyd from breathing.
Friday, June 5 would have been Breonna Taylor’s 27th birthday.
Taylor was an emergency medical technician who had been working throughout the coronavirus pandemic. She was killed at her home in Louisville when officers, who were serving a no-knock warrant, entered Taylor’s home and shot her. They had the wrong address.
Young said she told her son that he had more to lose during identity checks on campus than the security guard.
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal and we kind of suffered in silence for four years,” Young said. “He didn’t really (want to) make a big deal (of it). He said, ‘I’m not trying to cause any trouble, just get my degree and go.’”
After a week of protests in Detroit against police brutality and racism, Young said her neighbors wanted to do something to acknowledge Black death.
Some of the elderly neighbors, maintaining social distancing rules, haven’t been able to participate in protests but wanted to speak up.
So, on Friday, June 5, neighborhoods across Detroit, including Grandmont-Rosedale and Lafayette Park, held candlelight vigils.
“We live in an area that’s changing, we have lots of seniors,” Young said. “They grew up during the civil rights movement and aren’t able to go and protest. So it’s exciting for them to sit in a lawn chair in their driveway and participate, even with an electric candle.”
Neighbors lit candles for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the time it took for George Floyd to lose his life.
Rosedale Park is Michigan’s largest historic district. The neighborhood is part of a five-neighborhood collaborative through the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation, a nonprofit community-based organization that has spent the last few years renovating vacant homes and providing assistance to homeowners and small businesses within the community.
Young said it’s a tight-knit neighborhood. Recently, some of the residents created the Grandmont-Rosedale Justice Committee. One of her neighbors made t-shirts that read: “Grandmont Rosedale Stands Against Systemic Racism and Police Brutality.” The group posted them on social media and due to numerous positive responses by other neighbors, learned more people wanted to be involved.
“This is our first organized event and I doubt that it will be our last,” Young said. “We can’t be silent anymore, it’s not enough for one person to do anything by themselves.”
Sara Elliott, who has lived in Lafayette Park for a decade, said Young told her about the candlelight vigil in the northwest neighborhoods.
Elliott wanted to do something similar on the eastside of Detroit.
Elliott said she’s been able to hear the protests, and helicopters circling the downtown area in the past week. She has two young children at home and hasn’t wanted to leave the house due to the spread of coronavirus. A candlelight vigil provided her a way to show support for the end of police brutality in a neighborhood with a racist past.
She created a flyer, posted it on social media, the Nextdoor app and encouraged neighbors to share with one another, hoping others would join.
The creation of Lafayette Park, now a registered historic landmark, was through a Detroit urban renewal plan. It was originally known as the Black Bottom Neighborhood, predominantly with Black residents hit hard during the Great Depression. New housing developments and the city’s Urban Blight program pushed many of those families out during the 1960s. In the 1960’s, James Baldwin and others referred to the policy of urban renewal as “negro” or “Black” removal.
Now, Lafayette Park is one of the most diverse, socioeconomically and racially, neighborhoods in the city, according to Elliott.
Elliott said it’s important to acknowledge Lafayette Park’s history while coming together in solidarity during the protests. She said some of her neighbors have participated in local protests but she knows not everyone has been able to participate for varying reasons.
“It’s very inspiring that the protest has continued night after night,” Elliott said. “We still have so much work to do in the city around racial justice. This is an important historical moment and there is much more work to be done to create more equitable conditions in our city.”