Standing In The Shadows of Love

Zoë Villegas shares reflections on finding a place in the ceremony, economy, and celebration of Valentine’s Day growing up in Detroit. Erik Paul Howard illustrates her musings with photographs from the places and rituals her reflections are rooted in.

Words by Zoë Villegas
Photos by Erik Paul Howard

A Valentine’s Day window display lights up the street at Delia’s Fashion on W Vernor Hwy and Springwells in Southwest Detroit.

Remember how it was... here in the Motor City where backseats were made. With women hauling buckets of plastic wrapped single roses, doing cash exchanges in a series of hand motions in under 15 seconds—across from the Grand Marquis with the blinking light guarding Armando's.

On the intersection at I-75 and Springwells where the smog sunset brought to you by Marathon refinery will offer an air of romance later, two men compete selling pink carnations and red roses on the eastern and western corners. Specials on Hypnotiq, Rosé and small teddy bears that say "I luv you" next to condoms and aphrodisiacs by cash registers at the liquor store, remind us what month it is.


Casino lights flash red and pink. The insurance building with a glowing heart illuminates Fisher Freeway. All month in lobbies of welfare offices we have women selling perfume from brief cases, negotiating prices and discussing plans for reservations, showing manicures and pitching last minute sales on makeup sessions. All red outfits we plan to wear later are fodder for conversation when we get our bureaucratic mess dealt with for the day. One more document to turn in. Denied a bridge card once again. Apply again tomorrow. 

The ho store has been window-dressed with red tinsel and cutouts of bows and arrows displaying a sale on lingerie and all the variations of fabric that mimic lace, sequin, chiffon, satin and silk in the entire spectrum of erotic alternative fibers.

This economy was trained young—we were once freshman girls delivered singing Valentines and boxes of chocolates... for $1 anyone can say all the things they could never say. Radio dedications evoke memories of Ford-Wyoming drive-in make out sessions allowing songs long out of rotation to be made an exception for the sake of a collective memory.

Detroit carves a space for a moment to live—in between the stress and mundane of every day life, while we fantasize about leisure. If even in those two seconds at a light can be used for maximum potential filled in with the sentiment of romance buying a flower that is how it's done.

We take a holiday seriously. The message is about claiming our time, our right to love amidst the harsh reality of endless work to make ends meet.

Detroit says I love you the same way we do everything else, with hustling. Happy Valentine's Day to all the hustlers standing in the shadows of love.

For those about to ho, we salute you.

Last Days at Home with The Family

Local artist Freddy Diaz is spending his last few days at the home where he grew up before moving.

Here Freddy is shown sifting through belongings where he grew up during his last days at home with the family before moving into his own place.

I never really paid attention to it as a kid but as I got older I think my grandmother and aunts being creative gave me some sort of confirmation... someone having a similar energy to mine. Sewing was their way of channeling theirs and graffiti was mine.
— Freddy Diaz

His grandmother is visiting his family from Mexico. It’s always a special time together when she is able to make the trip, often staying with them for an extended period of time at the house.

He sees himself in her craft and creativity. "I never really paid attention to it as a kid but as I got older I think my grandmother and aunts being creative gave me some sort of confirmation... someone having a similar energy to mine. Sewing was their way of channeling theirs and graffiti was mine."

With his grandmother visiting from Mexico, he and his mother enjoy all the time together visiting. "Man I love my mom's cooking. I'm going to miss that. Actually I'm not because I'm not far." 

First Latin American Baptist in Southwest Detroit

First Latin American Baptist church in Southwest Detroit hosted its final service on the corner of Fort St and Dragoon this week as demolition crews razed nearby structures across the street.

The church building was constructed in the early 1900’s and has been home to the congregation for the past 50 years. It was purchased by MDOT—along with hundreds of other parcels along W Fort St and throughout the Delray neighborhood in Southwest Detroit—to be demolished to clear land for the new Gordie Howe International Bridge to Canada.

The parish has a long, celebrated history in the neighborhood as it has served the Latino community in Detroit since its inception almost 90 years ago.

Elizabeth Valdez, a member of the congregation since XXXX, says she will miss the old building but that it will not dampen the spirit of the church.

Pastor Kevin Casillas and the First Latin American Baptist church of Southwest Detroit will be moving into their new home on Scotten between Vernor Hwy and Toledo after one final celebration at their current site next week for their annual children’s Christmas Party.

Phoenix Academy Closing, Community Invited To Reimagine Building Use

As you may or may not know Phoenix Academy, located at 7735 Lane Street, is closing its doors at the end of this school year due to low enrollment, according to the EAA (Education Achievement Authority of Michigan).

The sign outside Phoenix Multicultural Academy on Lane Street shows recently updated dates of importance. The school will close permanently at the end of the school year.

The sign outside Phoenix Multicultural Academy on Lane Street shows recently updated dates of importance. The school will close permanently at the end of the school year.

Urban Neighborhood Initiatives (UNI), in partnership with Congress of Communities (CoC), is coordinating a community engagement process to learn what the community would like to see happen with the building or in the building. UNI and CoC are facilitating this community engagement process to encourage residents and stakeholders to re-imagine future use of the Phoenix building in an effort to inform project plans of potential developers.

Over the next couple of months they will be facilitating various forms of engagement (door knocking, small group discussions, social media surveys) in order to get input from a broad sector of the community, from residents most affected by the school closing to community leaders, business owners, and other stakeholders.

Phoenix Academy’s playground and basketball courts were recently updated. The school will close its doors permanently at the end of the school year according to the EAA, who is in charge of this school and others under emergency management by the State of Michigan.

Phoenix Academy’s playground and basketball courts were recently updated. The school will close its doors permanently at the end of the school year according to the EAA, who is in charge of this school and others under emergency management by the State of Michigan.

Recent landscape improvements have made the areas outside the school more welcoming for neighbors with seating, newer soccer and playground equipment, and basketball court as shown here from bordering Evans Street.

Recent landscape improvements have made the areas outside the school more welcoming for neighbors with seating, newer soccer and playground equipment, and basketball court as shown here from bordering Evans Street.

Please assist them in gathering this information by answering the following questions in the comment box at the bottom of this post:

Question 1: What would you like to see happen with the building and surrounding land in the short term (1-2 years)?

Question 2: What would you like to see happen with the building and surrounding land in the long term (5,10, 15 years)?

Question 3: What is it that you don't want to see happen with the building and surrounding land?

Thank you for participating and be on the lookout for more opportunities to provide your opinion and feedback on possible ideas.

If you would like to volunteer with UNI in collecting this information or have questions please contact Raul Echevarria at UNI by phone at (313) 451-8380 or via email at

Residents, Danto's, and SWSOL Come Together On Carson Street

Starting yesterday Danto's Furniture, located on Vernor and Central, began to board all the open properties on Carson from Dix to Vernor.  For the past several months residents, businesses, and organizations have been working to discover and prioritize the overwhelming issue that has resulted from the concentration of open, vacant properties on Carson.

<Insert paragraph from Springwells Voice Initiative describing pilot project>

This week when several residents spoke plainly about their concerns and the potential of losing more buildings on a block already plagued by arson and a dwindling housing stock they were heard.  The urgency of the matter helped to connect several community resources to each other in a way that allowed action to follow their input.  As a result, Southwest Solutions was able to purchase materials and Danto's Furniture provided the labor so that the residents of Carson are able to enjoy less open structures

The Apartments On Elsmere Have Burned For The Last Time

The corners on Elsmere from Avis to Mandale have been at varying stages of disrepair for some time. For the last 3 years open, empty, and burning structures have contributed to the blight and seem to have helped fuel illegal and even violent activity in the area. Multiple requests have been made to the City of Detroit over the course of this time. During the last 5 weeks in particular the area within 2 square blocks of Lane and Elsmere has suffered 2 shootings and 8 fires. But this week changes are coming.

This Thursday the City of Detroit will be hosting a press conference at 1808 Elsmere to spearhead demolition efforts in the neighborhoods around Springwells in Southwest Detroit. The press conference will be at 9:00 am and Mayor Bing will be in attendance. There will be four properties demolished at that site on this day. We are asking everyone to come out and show their support around these much needed demolition efforts in our neighborhood! Translation will be provided at this event. Please share this information with others. If you have any questions or need additional information, please call me at 313.451.8380

If you had the microphone for 30 seconds during this press conference, what would you say or ask your audience?

Customized Cars and Bicycles Bring Southwest Detroit Community Together To Dispel Myths

Words by Gionni Crawford

A tradition that started as a way to bring together young people in Southwest Detroit can be touted as "Dream Cruise: Southwest Detroit Style"

Hundreds of people gathered to see the showcased lowriders at the annual Blessing of the Lowriders event in Southwest Detroit, one of Detroit's most vibrant communities, along West Vernor Highway May 5, 2012.

The first Blessing of the Lowriders event took place 14 years ago in 1998 at Ste Anne's Catholic Church in Detroit.

Victor Villalobos is the founder of the Blessing of the Lowriders event and is passionate about telling stories about how lowriders were established. He believes this event ties the community together and dispels myths about youth, gangs, lowriders, and the Southwest Detroit community in general.

"When people think of lowriders immediately they think of old American made cars, but lowriders are also bicycles.  Old Schwinn "Krates" and "Stingrays" are the two most popular bicycle styles used to convert to lowriders," said Villalobos, "By accepting bicycles to be blessed it brings families together to build, paint, and display their works... young men and women love to show off what they labored over."

To keep the community-binding tradition going, Victor and Young Nation partnered in 2010 in hopes to attract more young people.

Young Nation promotes youth and community development through cultural and educational initiatives.

Young Nation is helping break stereotypes about Southwest Detroit (the community) and lowriders (the people) and using lowriders (the cars) as mentoring tools.

"We're excited that Young Nation has a big enough roof for us all to live under with our passion-based projects and want to have that be part of what gets out with this event." said Erik Howard, founder of Young Nation.

Villalobos realizes that there are a lot of unconfronted myths about Southwest, but he believes that this event has effectively combated those myths.

"Over the years I think that it has been very effective because the day that we had the first blessing the community and congregation at the church was accepting to the lowriders. These young men and women went back to their communities to tell other lowriders how accepting and uplifting it was to participate in mass."

Lowriders were not the only thing spectators could enjoy, Southwest Detroit is known for its surplus of ethnic restaurants and businesses.

"Southwest Detroit is a community built on pride. Even after a neighbor leaves they always find their way back for at least a visit or a bite to eat. I have always said once you have "bounced" down W. Vernor Hwy, you are'll be back."

If you're looking for a history lesson about the Blessing of the Lowriders tradition and customized cars, contact Victor Villalobos via email at or Erik Howard at

SNAPSHOT: Via Crucis at St Gabriel's Church

Photos by Gabriela Santiago-Romero

Via Crucis is a long standing tradition of the Catholic Church.  Each year on Easter weekend St. Gabriel's parish in Southwest Detroit hosts an elaborate presentation of the stations of the cross acted out by members of the church.  Hundreds of parishioners and local residents gather to view Via Crucis as it travels outside the church and through the community around Vernor and Springwells for the 2 hour event.

SNAPSHOT: Cinco de Mayo Parade 2012

This year's Cinco de Mayo Parade was filled with youth, families, instruments, horses, fashion, and rides!  This year the parade again traveled its traditional route from Patton Park to Clark Park.  Lasting for just over an hour it pleased visitors with a diverse arrangement of floats and performances.  Marching bands filled the streets with familiar sounds.  Horses pranced by.  Candy flew from cars and floats.  And young people from the community sported everything from signs with messages to the latest fashions from local shops.

What was YOUR experience?  Leave a comment below to let us know. What did you see, hear, taste, touch, and/or smell out in the neighborhood this weekend for the Cinco de Mayo festivities?


A Response To Community Violence

Written by Paul Krystyniak and Erik Howard for Inside Southwest Detroit

Five Things That Help Increase Our Access To Safety And Sense Of Community:

Murders, drug dealing, home invasions, arson, dumping, and gang violence make for juicy headlines.  Especially when these things happen in neighborhoods in Southwest Detroit.  At times, they seem to be the only headlines (or conversation) people are interested in even when they are not the only ones available.

This article is not about the media and our problems with their reporting. That is a wholly separate issue.  It is about the people who consume media (us), and what we do and don't do with the information.  It's also about the information that we are not receiving and/or not passing along.  It is important to be aware of what is happening around us.  However, news about violent incidents regularly energizes only a few key populations: those that will respond with a new policy, an organized action, an emotional response, or idle gossip.  Often responses come from activists, police, vigilantes, policy makers, victims, or outside spectators.  These groups are either a very small group on the front lines of decision-making and community issues, or a larger non-involved group who value the news as entertainment.  What about the rest of us? Where are we looking to get our information?  What are we doing with the information we receive?

This article is a response to recent violence in the community for everyone who lives or has a stake in the community. It is for the "rest of us": the people whose collective actions inspire and impact the mood in the community.  It is for people who live next door, who walk to school, who shop at the local grocery store, who are related to the victims and the perpetrators, people who don't want to leave their house, people who take the bus, people who play at the park, and people who were here when it happened and will still be here when things get worse and then better again. We believe that we (this group) are the extreme majority.  We believe that we are not being equipped with a balanced account of what takes place in our community and what we can do to enjoy or change it.  This may be, in part, our own fault.  But at the end of the day we have power to shift the tide when we decide that is what needs to happen.  That is why this article was written.  It should start a dialog about how we see, how we feel, what we say, and what we do in our neighborhoods when bad news discourages us.  Our aim is that that this dialog is not one-sided, so responses of all kinds are welcomed and encouraged.

Times like these in Southwest Detroit (or any community) are definitive moments. We have seen this before and we will see it again.  When a community is in the midst of a string of violent incidents, it is a natural response to start talking and feeling differently about the community.  Each incident and each conversation about recent events can be tipping points for the "mood" of the community. At minimum, we are deciding through conversations inside and outside of our homes and our community how to feel, act, and respond to violent incidents.  This process is fragile and important in determining how a community will respond to its circumstances and resulting conditions.

What is happening?  Why is it happening?  Are we all unsafe?  What is the problem?  How do you address it?  Who is helping?  Who gets to tell us what is happening and why?  These are all questions that have to be worked through by individual community members and the community as a whole.

There are some simple things that we can do to embrace the safety and sense of community that we do have access to today. Participating in the suggestions below as individuals increases our access to these and also is an exercise of support and promotion of them.  Experiencing them together with others creates and strengthens relationships that we can tap in to improve the quality of our experience in our community tomorrow.

1. Share Time and Space

Enjoy some indoor time with family and friends in new ways. Look for opportunities to get together with others who live close to do things you normally don't do together.  If you have a favorite television series or like to watch the games find who will be doing the same thing at the same time anyway.  Do it together.  Play time with the kids, chores/tasks around the house, and cooking are all better with company.  And when the company lives close it is even easier.

Opening your home or other private space (porch, front or back yard, garage) to people you love and care about is an exercise in hospitality.  And it often encourages others to do the same.  This is an easy way to strengthen our bonds with people we trust and care for simply by spending time together.  At the same time it helps to build community.

2. Put Your Eyes (And Feet) On The Street 

Come outside!!Porches, parks, and sidewalks: populate them. This is something you can do with others from your house or with people down the street.  It is something you can do casually or something that you can plan to do with a small group.  If you decide to leave the porch and take to the sidewalk, then pick a destination.  It makes it much easier to organize as you can have others meet you at the park or somewhere else enjoyable.  It is fun, it is easy, and it increases our presence all over the community.  It has been proven in communities across the globe that with increased presence of residents in a community comes a decrease in crime.

Having visible fathers walking around, increasing the presence of mothers and children, and in general having more residents out and about helps to create a wider impression of care and concern in the community.  People mix, mingle, and get to know each other better.  Make a point to smile, nod, and/or say hello casually to people who you see because it makes an impression.  Additionally, while you're out on foot you learn to see your neighborhood in lots of new ways by simply putting your eyes and feet on the street instead of driving by at 25+ miles per hour where you miss what's going on at the street level.  And it misses you.

3. Strike Up A Conversation

Think of a neighbor or someone in the neighborhood that is different than you (for example: age, opinions, race) and initiate a light conversation. In the process, you lighten the mood.  Maybe this person is a neighbor, an employee at a business, or even the mail lady.  Of course it should be someone with who you have low to no risk of confrontation.  Chances are whatever differences you have are small in comparison to the current issues in the community.

Keep the conversation light.  Or don't if you're up for a real challenge. But be ready to discover that you may have more in common concerning how you both feel about community than you knew.  Additionally, a relationship can be formed in the process.

4. Recognize An Inspirational Individual

Identify someone in the community who inspires you or who you see as a leader.  Tell them what you think of them. This could be a neighbor, a teacher, or even a business owner or anyone else. By communicating how they make you and other's feel you can encourage them and validate their efforts.  And, if they are inspirational for you, don't they at least deserve that?  Your comment could even motivate them to become more involved or come up with a creative solution to a problem in the community.  This simple act can easily end up greatly benefiting the community.  Recognition feels great!  Pass it on.

5. Help Shape Your Community's Story

Be intentional to talk MORE about community issues, strengths, and assets with others who you know are engaged in the day-to-day struggles and will be involved to help overcome them. Be intentional to talk LESS about community issues with others who are not going to be involved in the problems or the solutions.  This is where toxic dialogue begins.

At times it is even worse than crime itself when there is the perception that it is full of crime and unsafe.  This makes people act differently in ways that further break down community.  Often this perception is out of proportion to the actual risk and often the risk is more closely tied to the daily routine of those affected.  The exceptions to this are much less common, and just that... exceptions.  An inventory and simple plan to reduce high-risk routines or behaviors can reduce your risk of being victimized.  This is true whether you are in an "unsafe" community or not.

Sensational talk about the neighborhood can be tempting because people are always ready to hear about how bad things are. With amazing speed this negative information sharing creates diminished opportunities, backlash, and bias toward a community.  Stopping it prevents rumors and encourages strength-based perspectives.  Spreading the word about community strengths, assets, and opportunities with neighbors and visitors is also contagious.  We have a choice in what gets spread around. You can help to shape your community's story and as a result it can be a story with a much better chance for a happy ending.

The suggestions offered here are successful if they can help identify people, places, and activities where you experience safety and a sense of community and increase how completely and how often you can enjoy these feelings. Spend a week trying to do at least three of the five suggestions.  Afterwards, please share with us some things you did to put these suggestions in to practice!  We will be compiling a list of real stories and suggestions based on your feedback to encourage others to do the same and to show people that we're alive and well here in Southwest Detroit.

Neighborhood Is Buzzing As Cinco de Mayo Approaches

Written by Carmen Mendoza-King for Inside Southwest Detroit

Cars line up on West Vernor. Horns beep and bass shakes the neighborhood through the early night. People wave flags out of car windows. These are just a few signs that the Cinco de Mayo parade in Southwest Detroit is on its way. This highly anticipated parade is the largest annual event celebrated in the community of southwest Detroit. Cinco de Mayo festivities have evolved from a one day parade to a series of celebrations stretching throughout the first week of May.

Since its beginning, generations ago, the Southwest Detroit Cinco de Mayo parade has been growing in size and popularity along with the growth of the local Latino population. Compared to only a decade ago, the parade is a huge version of its former self.  Southwest Detroit residents and non-residents alike pack sidewalks along West Vernor to watch the parade during the first weekend in May.  They enjoy watching Mexican bandas playing on parade floats, young break-dancers, lowrider bikes and cars, and school marching bands.  Following the parade Clark Park has traditionally hosted a variety of festivities such as Mexican folkloric dance performances, music, art, and a sampling of local cuisine sold at booths.

This year the parade is incorporating several changes that will primarily affect the parade route and "official" activities after the parade.  This year the parade will not begin at Patton Park as it has in the past... instead the parade will be two miles long, and will proceed down Vernor from Waterman to 24th Street in Southwest Detroit.  Although there will not be activities at the end of the parade route as in the past, there is PLENTY to do before and after the parade throughout the neighborhood.  Stay tuned to Inside Southwest Detroit for up-to-date information on events!

Check out the Inside Southwest Detroit Community Calendar for happenings:

Download the official 2010 Cinco de Mayo Parade Application:

Food, Culture, And Community In Southwest Detroit

Written by Kelli Kavanaugh for Inside Southwest Detroit

If Southwest Detroit were a food, what would it be? Take your pick: pierogi filled with potato and cheese, tamales brimming with shredded pork, cheese-filled papusas or doughy gnocci topped with pesto?  And I'm sure I'm missing some kind of cuisine - for my money, one of the best things about living in the area - and I'm on its bleeding eastern edge, Corktown - is the food.  And its not just the restaurants, it's the mercados with produce and meats sometimes fresher than Eastern Market, it's the parking lot taco stands and the bicycle-propelled ice cream "trucks."  It's bakeries and barbeque and cerveza and ceviche and even falafel.

And if food represents anything, it is culture—and Southwest Detroit is blessed with that in spades. Consistently regarded as Detroit's most diverse area and comprised of several distinct neighborhoods, it is boisterous and prayerful, religious and sporting, a late-night party and an early-morning tree planting all at once. Its Anglo, Latino, African-American and Middle Eastern mix make its high school halls look like none other in the city.  And Southwest Detroit would not have it any other way. All the way to the east, in Corktown, you'll find Irish pubs and old wooden homes proudly preserved and in Hubbard Richard, the city's oldest church and a brand-new State of Michigan welcome center and marketplace.  Hubbard Farms has stately homes and a strong reputation for activism. The Michigan Avenue Corridor presents snippets of its Polish past evolving into a new Latino future and Delray, a snapshot of post-industrial history alongside a remarkable military artifact, Fort Wayne.  Where else can you, in a three-block walk, find halal meat and hear bells calling faithful Muslims to prayer, stroll past a historic cemetery, pop into a brand-new Detroit Public Library and finally, slide into a taqueria? That would be W. Vernor near Patton Park.

It is an urban community with many issues, including homelessness, poor air quality, crime and blight.  But is politically active and growing - it was the only area of Detroit to grow in population between the 1990 and 2000 census. And that growth brings hope and a reason to continue to strive for a new Southwest Detroit that exists in solidarity with the old.