When I hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have A Dream” speech, a single image pops into my head – a couple of 3-year-old kids, a tow-headed girl and a dark-skinned boy, sharing a red popsicle on a concrete porch on the east side of Detroit.
Moments earlier, the ice cream truck had pulled up, and my dad bought us popsicles, as he often did for kids on the block. Leroy was inside at the time, and by the time he came out, my blonde-haired sister, Asheigh, was already a red mess, devouring her popsicle. He was devastated.
“Here, you can have some,” Asheigh said, handing Leroy her popsicle.
I think Dr. King smiled that day. That whole neighborhood was just alive! We were all kids. Despite a few underlying racial issues – I was a young teen at the time – we just co-existed. It was a peaceful street. There was music. Laughter. And I never worried when my little sister wanted to walk down the street to Leroy’s house.
Even the so-called “crackheads” were fun and friendly. I remember a guy named “Fingers” – due to his signature handshake – who stuck his neck out for us when bad guys came up to cause trouble.
My best friends were Reese, Marshall, Chell and Star. We sat on front porches dreaming of the future: Who we would be? What we would drive? Those were good times in Detroit. I never worried about my safety, even when I walked about a mile to Nolan Middle School. I knew everyone. It was 1996.
Fast-forward to a few years ago. A man on the news was yelling and waving the U.S. flag upside down as a distress signal, calling attention to the horrid conditions in his neighborhood. I recognized our corner park, which had been restored by Grant Hill. It was now in ruins.
Later, I drove down my old street, Andover, and was appalled. More than 90% of the homes were either gone or burned out. It was a summer morning, and there wasn’t a single kid to be heard. One of the only occupied houses used to belong to Reese. I pulled up to the curb, wondering if he still lived there. A group of young black men came to my door. Although I was a little nervous, I assumed someone there would recognize me.
“Get away from her! She ain’t no crack hoe!” a voice yelled.
It was Reese. We chatted for a few, shared some cell phone photos. But I had to get to work, and he had to get back to whatever he was up to. Although we were both in our young 20s, his face was hardened. It was clear his life was hard.
Reese explained why people left. Some fled because of fires; others left because their landlords didn’t have insurance or just didn’t care. We left the home we rented because a city water main broke and destroyed our basement. It had been torn down, now a memory among sad empty houses.
We need neighborhoods in Detroit again. Safe streets, with occupied homes and laughing kids – if we ever hope to hear the ice cream trucks again.
Doni Langon is a regular contributor as well as is the owner of Throttle Gals Magazine and a volunteer for the Belle Isle Aquarium.
Doniece Langdon is a native Detroit, owner of Throttle Gals magazine and volunteers for the Belle Isle Aquarium.