by Kelsey Mesmer
If you want to reach the people, you need to go through Reverend Roslyn Bouier of Brightmoor. She’s the gatekeeper—she holds the community’s trust. So this week, we went to the Reverend.
Monday we met at the Brightmoor Connection Food Pantry to discuss issues taking place in Brightmoor and get to know the Reverend and the work she has been doing in the community. We have also teamed up with Moratorium Now, a non-profit group that is trying to sue the city over the water shutoffs. They’re trying to collect surveys from the same population we are looking to speak with for our oral history project, and so we decided to join ranks and brainstorm ways in which we can reach out to Detroit residents who have been affected by the water shutoffs.
We learned a lot during this meeting. I had never been to Brightmoor before, but we learned that the Detroit neighborhood is on the brink of being flipped by the city. This is evident by the construction projects taking place throughout the neighborhood, like the placement of new shiny sidewalks in front of buildings that are run down and have been empty for years. Inspectors are also going around to businesses, trying to enforce building codes and get longstanding community members kicked out of these spaces so they can renovate them.
Even worse, the water shutoffs have hit Brightmoor the hardest of any other neighborhood in Detroit. But the shutoff is just one obstacle. Oftentimes, Bouier said it’s not just the water utility coming to shut off someone’s water access. Child Protective Services will often show up alongside the utility works to remove children from the waterless home as well, since not having water is indicative of a dangerous/unhealthy home life. It’s another way she says residents are being pushed out of Brightmoor. (You can read more about Bouier’s work and this struggle here.)
Because of all these stressors in the community, Bouier warned us that residents might be hesitant to speak with us—random strangers—appearing on their doorstop asking to hear their stories. So we’re going to start volunteering and spending time at her pantry at the beginning of the year, so we can get to know people in the community. Under the Reverend’s wing, hopefully the community will come to trust us enough to share their experiences with us.