Vans and trucks of social workers pull up across from two tables: on them, an assembly line of chips and plates are waiting. The smell of burgers overwhelm the block in char-grey smoke from the grill. The social workers bypass the table and stride over to a gazebo, where a crowd of two dozen people are waiting for them.
This is Resurrection City Detroit: An initiative started by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. before his death, revived in 2017 by Reverend Aaron McCarthy and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC-DETROIT) to connect homeless and impoverished people to resources, housing, ties to a supportive community, and personal empowerment – the realization that they are important and they can make a difference.
“Many people out here don’t think they deserve attention,” Reverend McCarthy, President of SCLC-DETROIT. “We are here to prove otherwise.”
Reverend McCarthy was a former friend and college classmate of the late Ralph David Abernethy III, son of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Vice President Dr. Ralph David Abernethy II. Their friendship led to his participation and leadership in the SCLC, the Presidency of the Detroit Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Detroit, “The Poor People’s Campaign” and friendship with the King Family. This year, it led to the reigniting of Resurrection City, inherent of the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Contacting an old friend and former Neighborhood colleague Peter Parker, an agreement was made to utilize his private property for this historic endeavor: “I hope this project can help people get themselves right and keep them there,” Parker said.
On September 16, the first tents went up. “We started with nine people three weeks ago and have grown to twenty five” the Reverend said. “Four people have gone to rehab or detox programs, and five apartments have been assigned. As of this weekend, all 140 local chapters of the SCLC have been activated under the directive of SCLC International President Dr. Charles Steele Jr.”
Resurrection City was inspired by a trip Dr. King made to Marks, Mississippi, in 1967 where Dr. King encountered chronic, profound poverty, only imaginable in developing countries, not the United States. Moved by what he saw, he and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized an effort, the
“The People’s Campaign,” collectively shows the nation the face of poverty to combat systemic barriers. It is being duplicated in Detroit, which has the highest level of poverty in the country.
SCLC, with a revived Resurrection City, not only wants to provide a means for impoverished people to climb out, they want to provide collective empowerment. “The Poor People’s Campaign” has registered over 300 residents to vote in the primaries so far,” McCarthy added. “Over 21,000 of Detroiters are homeless, and only 13 percent voted in the last election. Imagine if they all voted – the primary election could have been turned around.”
As winter approaches, McCarthy is hoping to grant the residents of Resurrection City a permanent support system in the form of affordable housing and resources.
“We’ve allowed them to keep out of the weather,” McCarthy added. “Because in the winter, they’re already in the elements – in old cars, abandoned houses and dangerous structures. When winter comes, it will be too cold to run Resurrection City as it is. We want them to find their own home, affordable housing where they have a support system, not just a shelter where they can go in and out.”
If Resurrection City is still necessary, they will, of course, need supplies, such as many blankets, as space heaters will melt the tents, heat blowers for the areas tents will be pitched, and straw to reinforce the ground.