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Nonprofit working to bring unity to Detroit neighborhood with community space

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Posted at 4:18 PM, Feb 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-13 18:00:08-05

DETROIT (WXYZ) — A group of young people in Detroit is working to bring unity to their neighborhood through a community space they're calling the Umoja Village.

Umoja Village, which was founded as a debate team for middle school students, expanded into a community space on the city's west side in September. Founder Jerjuan Howard bought a plot of land near Stansbury and Puritan. In October, around 70 volunteers helped to build signs, fences, benches and a stage.

Howard says after growing up in a home nearby on Cheyenne, he had the idea to build a community space after watching the neighborhood change over the years.

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"I used to walk down Puritan from school and everything and over time I seen this area kind of transform a little bit," said Howard. " I know what kind of grounded me in who I am was community, collaboration and love for everybody and I think that (the neighborhood) just needed some type of push to ignite that for this whole entire area."

From that thought, the Umoja Village was born just a few blocks from Howard's childhood home. The once abandoned and trash filled lot now houses a community garden, a stage where middle school debate students can practice weekly and a little free library.

"It shows the beauty of the city. There are a lot of abandoned places a lot of abandoned lots, a lot of abandoned houses," said Brandon Harrison who is the program manager for Umoja Village. "Once you see an area can be cleaned up, other people in different neighborhoods will say we can do it ourselves."

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The space is maintained by volunteers and neighbors who call it a breath of fresh air.

"It’s refreshing instead of seeing boarded up windows and trash," said Kenneth Tyson who lives across the street. "They know how it looked. It was horrible but one person can only do so much. It takes a community."

The creators behind the Umoja village say the word Umoja is Swahili for Unity, something they're hoping to inspire in others across the city.

"I know I can’t do everything around the city but if I can inspire people to do what I do in my neighborhood in their (neighborhood), I think that’s a plus," said Howard.

Howard and his team say they're hoping to put more community spaces across the city eventually and inspire others to join in their efforts. More information on volunteer and donation opportunities can be found on the Umoja Debate Team website.