Students join efforts to revitalize communities in Detroit

Apr 11, 2014

The sign beside the highway reads “Detroit: City Limits.” Well, it’s supposed to, but the graffiti makes it hard to see. Dilapidated houses and boarded strip malls pass the bus window. It’s spring break, and Marissa Sylvester ’15, biology major, traded sandy beaches for service.

“I could have gone home and relaxed,” says Sylvester. “But I wanted to do something significant and useful. Helping others means much more to me than sleeping late.”

Of the nearly 60 North Central students who spent spring break serving across the nation, Sylvester was part of a small group that joined forces with the Motown Mission Experience, a Christian urban work mission dedicated to economic disaster recovery work.  

The trip was organized by Dorothy Pleas, North Central’s director of multicultural affairs. “We met many people who are spearheading grassroots efforts to revitalize their communities,” she says. “It was powerful to see the passion and love that these individuals had for the city of Detroit.”

The group met with alumnus Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellermann ’71 at his Detroit area church, where he talked about economic and governmental issues and his activism work. Students also visited the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit Historical Museum and Motown Museum.

“I came into this trip really apprehensive—I didn’t know what to expect,” Sylvester says. “You hear about the dangers of Detroit, but I wasn't afraid to get involved.”

Sylvester’s bravery paid off. Inside the Brightmore Church’s “Free Store”—which supplies home goods, clothes and other necessities at no cost—she learned something: a service trip can benefit the volunteers as much as the communities. She told a volunteer leader how grateful she was for the opportunity to help. She will never forget the response she received.

“This woman looked at me and said, ‘We are so blessed to have you come and help us. God brought you to us and we could never do this without you.’”

Sylvester knows that the abandoned homes and graffiti-covered shops are still there, but she remembers something else. “I saw the spirit, the culture of the people of Detroit,” she says. “I lost my fear of the city and focus now on all the possibilities it has to offer. We wanted to bring a little brightness into Detroit and leave it better than when we got there. I think we accomplished that.”

Written by Troy Kelleher ’16, student writer