With only two days left until the year’s big event, there were a million things on Artina Hardman’s mind. But for the moment, she was focused on t-shirts.
In the art gallery of her Gratiot Woods nonprofit on a humid Thursday afternoon, she and two volunteers sorted through a box of lime green shirts.
“I can wear that right there!” an elderly woman sitting said about a medium t-shirt.
As the executive director of Mack Alive, Hardman, 72, was getting ready for the community service organization’s annual parade and rally, which is now in its 33rd year.
The parade will get underway at 10 a.m. Saturday at Mack and St. Jean and ending at Genesis Lutheran Church, 7200 Mack Avenue. Then until 4 p.m., attendees can grab hot dogs and chips at the church, check out numerous vendors, play a game at the mobile bowling station, or have their children play inside the bouncy house. Blue Cross Blue Shield and Molina Healthcare will also be there administering health screenings for diabetes, HIV/AIDS and COVID-19.
New for this year’s event is the appearance of four floats from The Parade Company, the nonprofit that stages Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Detroit Fireworks. The entries include an anti-bullying float and a Motown float, Hardman said. And Detroit Police Chief James White will be the grand marshal of the parade.
Hardman said the free parade and rally is the biggest event held on the east side with 1,500 people attending each year.
“Every fourth Saturday in August, we transform this community where there is nothing but love,” she said. “We believe that love does make a difference. It has for 33 years and it will continue to do so.”
Improving life on Detroit’s east side
Mack Alive was founded in 1991 by Hardman’s sister and former city councilwoman and state legislator Alberta Tinsley-Talabi, as a way to give back to the east side community that helped raise the siblings.
Hardman, who is also a former state representative, said at that time, the east side had been neglected, and was ravaged by poverty, crime and drugs. So, the sisters decided they needed to improve the lives of residents.
While the parade is the organization’s biggest event, Mack Alive offers a wide array of programs from children to seniors. There’s the Buddies in Business Program, an employment and entrepreneurship program for Detroit youth; a health wellness program, food giveaways with Gleaners Community Food Banks and Alcohol and Narcotics Anonymous classes.
Hardman, who has served as executive director since 2011, said her purpose in life at this moment is serving people. Every year, the parade has a theme, with this year’s being, “True to the community.” It’s a statement Hardman believes rings true for Mack Alive.
“People come through here and sometimes, they can really be down. We may not be able to solve your problem right then, but I’ll listen to you and do my best to help out with whatever issue you came in with,” she said.
One person who has benefited from Mack Alive is Hardman and Tinsley-Talabi’s cousin, Valarie Brunson. The former Detroiter now lives in Arizona, but comes back to help with the parade and rally every year. Brunson said she does a little bit of everything, from helping with set up to cooking. She has volunteered with the organization for 24 years, mostly mentoring kids.
“It just does my heart so good to see that what we do on an everyday basis impacts kids for life,” Brunson said. “I am Mack Alive and Mack Alive is me.”