For kids of bankrupt Detroit, challenges abound

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“I don’t want my son to be experimented on,” she said. “The clock is ticking. I don’t want - when he’s 16 - to discover he’s not prepared.”


Whatever happens inside Detroit’s schools, the environment outside can be menacing.

The city-backed Detroit Youth Violence Prevention Initiative recently surveyed 1,300 high school students. Asked if a family member had been shot, murdered or disabled as a result of violence in the past 12 months, 87 percent answered yes.

“Far too many children walk to and from school in fear, lack trust in those who took the oath to protect and serve, and consider retaliation to be a means to an end,” said the initiative’s director, Annie Ellington.

In response to such challenges, residents have formed volunteer patrols to enhance the safety of students between school and home.

Indeed, as municipal services for families and children withered, a host of community associations, volunteer groups and nonprofits have sought to fill the void.

“We work with people every day who haven’t given up, who love kids, who are committed to making things better,” said Sharnita Johnson, a Detroit native who helps oversee the Kellogg Foundation’s grants to neighborhood and youth programs in the city.

“Detroiters are really clear that they can’t be passive residents anymore,” she said. “The cavalry is not coming in to help.”

So it is that neighborhood task forces have formed to clean up parks left untended due to city budget cuts.

The new Detroit mayor, Mike Duggan, recently labeled the parks “an embarrassment” - with only 25 of the 300 parks in well-maintained condition last summer. He vowed to have 150 parks in good shape next summer, and urged churches to launch an “adopt-a-park” program that might allow 50 more to be revived.

The mayor also plans to work with the medical community on reducing the high rate of premature births and to lobby in tandem with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to expand pre-K education. He’s promised to expand the bus fleet and fit existing buses with security cameras.

Others are pitching in to help Detroit’s children.

The Detroit Children’s Choir, which serves about 200 young people, says its funding is up by $30,000 from last year. Detroit PAL - the police athletic league - has about 1,500 adult volunteers coaching 11,000 kids in sports programs.

There’s also the Mosaic Youth Theater, founded in 1992, which has sent ensembles of young singers and actors on overseas tours.

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