This post comes from Sam West, a Cool Cities intern working in Detroit this summer.
When I first started my internship at Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation (GRDC) I was told of a retired lady named Clarenda Webb. My supervisor, Pam Weinstein, told me that she was a neighborhood resident who would occasionally come into the office and do some work for the neighborhood. Nothing special stood out from her description; I just that she was a neighborhood resident who I would occasionally see. Little did I know how much I would actually see her.
Later I was introduced to her while working at the Northwest Detroit Farmers’ Market. She was quite charming and energetic, but besides her charisma I didn’t get to talk to her enough to have anything stand out. It wasn’t until Pam suggested that I ask Clarenda for help implementing my survey that I really began to know her. Immediately I was caught off guard by her enthusiasm for the survey. She suggested ideas such as a water cooler on a hot day, and pens to replace my cheap pencils. These all seemed like simple ideas but I really didn’t have access acquire any of these resources. This wasn’t a problem for Clarenda and by the next day I was with her driving throughout the entire neighborhood in search of who we could beg to get the necessary supplies. Once we got all of our supplies we topped off our adventure by going on neighborhood radio patrol in search of what was new in the neighborhood. It was definitely an exciting and productive trip.
Since then I don’t think I’ve gone a day in the neighborhood without seeing Clarenda. When a storm hit at the farmer’s market I was working on my survey with Clarenda and told her she could leave because of the rain. Moments later two tents, weighed down by four cinder blocks, were blown 5 feet in the air holding bringing the cinder blocks with them and destroying the tent (in retrospect cinder blocks 10 feet in the air are quite dangerous). I, along with some other volunteers, rushed to get the other tents down before any more tents were damaged. At one point in the chaos, wind, and pouring rain I saw Clarenda carrying a wagon full of cinder blocks to try to help, even though she knew she could get out of the rain and leave. Other days I’ll be working in the neighborhood, working with volunteers on events such as planting flowers at a neighborhood entrances and I’ll see Clarenda driving by radio patrol or promoting some event (neighborhood fish fry is the current event she is promoting). On the days she’s not in the streets she’s in the GRDC office as a volunteer trying to get some house boarded up (which actually takes a considerable amount of work, nagging and traveling through bureaucracy). She just does it all.
She’s been one of the inspirational figures for me while working at GRDC. It’s just amazing how much she is able to accomplish and what dedication she has towards building community and beauty in the neighborhood. Detroit is facing issues, anyone will admit that, but there are so many dedicated and remarkable people in the city that you just have to admire. Clarenda is one of them, and it helps to know that any contribution I can give to the neighborhood will help people like Clarenda in helping to build a strong community.