In The Beginning: Looking For Signs Of Hope…Finding It Everywhere!

A couple of days ago I got a call from the people of the Garden Resource Program asking me if I was still going to come out and work at the community school garden being placed at Nolan Elementary/Middle School.  The first thing that came to my mind was, “Gee, when did I volunteer for that?”  That will teach me to stand and go to the bathroom when someone is talking!  Oh well, its kind of close and it was the junior high school that I attended when I was a kid, I’ll do it.  Besides, it will be nice to see how these things were done.  Whatever I learn from this experience I will be able to share with the people (teachers, administrators, students and sponsors) that are involved with Project Sweet Tomato.

The designated date and time was Saturday at 3:00p.m.  Of course, when I got up Saturday it was raining.  I looked at the calendar and noticed that this was the weekend of Detroit’s Downtown Hoedown and it almost always rains on Hoedown weekend.  “Well there goes that”, I thought as I decided to take care of other important but non-essential activities.  But as my luck would have it, the rain stopped and in spite of the gray skies overhead, I did not get a call saying that the days gardening activities were cancelled.  So at about 2:30 in the afternoon, I started to slowly walk to the school not quite sure what I had got myself into.

Upon arriving at the school and meeting some of the students, teachers and leaders from the Garden Resource program, I was immediately given the assignment to go pick up some tree stumps at the house of a neighbor of one of the teachers.  I left with two other individuals to go get the stumps and to get there we had to go through an area of the city that has been hit pretty hard.  There were burnt out houses, abandoned homes, businesses boarded up…evidence of decay and the lack of any measure of effort to correct or improve the neighborhood.  I must admit I was more than a little embarrassed, since our driver was a “rose-colored cheek” intern from U of M and a resident of the city of Northville.  She had undoubtedly seen and heard about this aspect of Detroit (let’s thank Newt Gingrich for that), but nonetheless this is not the visual that I would want someone to take away from of our city.

As we proceeded to our destination, we came upon an event that actually caught me by surprise.  For here amongst all of this rot, decay and unsightly destruction someone dared to throw a party.  We couldn’t stop to see exactly what was going on, but there were balloons, music and a lot of merriment taking place.  It wasn’t like one could ignore the overall plight of the environment, but it was like a decision had been made not to let this beat you down…keep you down…that you should hold your head up…keep striving…don’t stop until you get ahead.  There was hope here…plain and simple.

“Look, Look

Look to the rainbow

Follow it over the hill

and the stream”

So when we finally got back to the school, I had a moment to reflect on what I had just seen and what I was about to witness.  I took a hard look at the kids that came out to work on the garden.  These kids didn’t get dropped off by their parents in some big and fancy car.  No, there was not a big spread of exotic delicacies from around the world.  No cases of imported water either. These were not the children of wealth and privilege.  Definitely not!  So why were they here?  If you were to believe not everything but most of what you have heard or read about the youth of Detroit, what I was seeing was either a mirage or perhaps the result of drinking tainted water.

What I saw on this day were hardworking kids that had been instilled with a little something called hope.  Because they had “hope” they were out there building the boxes for raised beds.  Because they had hope they were shoveling and pulling up sod.  Because they had hope they were hauling away the dirt…building a compost pile…setting up their rain barrel.  There was no crying about how tough it was…how hard the ground was…how heavy the load.  No crying about the work assignments or the distribution of duties and responsibilities.  That was not what they were here for.  Here we had a group of kids that represented the hope of better days ahead…for themselves, their school, their community and last but not least, the city of Detroit.

Bonnie Odom and “Nolan’s Fierce Gardeners”

They were here because somebody told them that if you plant a single seed something magical might happen.  They were here because they were told that as an individual working within a group that something significant could be accomplished.  They were here because as a team or as unit they were told that they could bring about change that would benefit not just themselves but also an entire community.  Hope would give them the richest rewards they would ever find.

“Look, Look

Look to the rainbow

Follow the fellow

Who follows a dream”

Everywhere I looked I saw hope!  Those that came without hope took some home with them.  Those that came with it walked away with a little more.  A little hope can go a long way…and we’re just getting started!

 If you have a business or work for a company that might want to sponsor the garden at Nolan or any other Detroit Public School, please contact Arthur Littsey/Nine Below Zero at (313) 369-1710 or littsey.arthur@sbcglobal.net.

To learn more about Project Sweet Tomato please click here.

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