'Detroit Neighborhood Guideook' Chapter: 'Stevie Wonder Used to Visit My Block'

Detroit's dozens of distinctive clusters are almost like provinces or nation-states, in a sense -- disparate enclaves with individual characters and cultures.

That diversity, and the strong identity imprinted on proud residents, is celebrated in the 34 chapters of "The Detroit Neighborhood Guidebook" -- arriving Aug. 21 from Belt Publishing as its third paperback on this city. It follows "The Detroit Anthology" (2014) and "How to Live in Detroit Without Being a Jackass" (2015).

The cover is designed and illustrated by Detroit artist Haley Suzanne Stone.

"No matter how many books are done about Detroit, it's still impossible to capture this city's ethos into a finite number of pages," editor Aaron Foley writes at the start of the 164-page new book, which has essays by him and 32 others. (As he was wrapping up the project, Foley joined the mayor's staff in March as "chief storyteller" for an upcoming website on city neighborhoods.)    

"I had a goal of amplifying voices of Detroit while simultaneously sharing narratives from all across the city," he says on Facebook this week. "I think we pulled off something special here with a mix of essays, poetry and fiction."

Recollections and status reports come from the east side, west side, Southwest Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park. There's even a chapter on Tiger Stadium and one on Steve's Place, a legendary downtown dive bar on Congress Street that gets 14 pages -- the longest selection and the only fiction piece. (Most chapters are two to four pages.)

"The vision for this guidebook was to showcase the many voices of this complicated city—as many as we possibly could," Foley's foreword says.

Those voices are shaped by the neighborhoods they know, or knew. . . .

Our neighborhoods mold us. Whether you grew up in that neighborhood, bought your first house there or had family there, it shapes you.

Part of what shapes him is "A One-Year Stand in Hamtramck," as his six-page chapter is titled. A tease:

I felt the call to Hamtramck getting louder. . . . A few acquaintances had moved here in recent years and had no complaints. And above all, it was cheap as fuck.

“I’m only going to stay here for a little bit,” I told myself. Get in, get out. Pay cheap rent, save your money, and go right back to Detroit.

Eventually, I did go back to Detroit. But the temptation to stay in Hamtown was pretty strong.

Among other prominent contributors are Marsha Music, a writer, speaker and historian; Palmer Park organizer Barbara Barefield; Detroit News reporters Ian Thibodeau and Justin Rogers; Jalopnik managing editor Erin Marquis and journalist-author Drew Philp.

Lakisha Dumas: "My block was so special, Stevie Wonder used to visit." (LinkedIn photo)

The chapter below, picked by Foley for our preview, is by a Detroit Zoological society executive assistant who previously worked for seven years at the Sam Bernstein Law Firm. She's a 1999 communication graduate of Eastern Michigan University.

Her essay recalls 11 childhood years near Jefferson Avenue in what's now called East Riverside.

-- Alan Stamm

When Ruby Jones Was Here

By Lakisha Dumas

When Ruby Jones was here, Detroit was where I called home.

Recalling my elementary-school-aged self, bursting through my grandparents’ screen door to go outside each day.

That screen door that I could only run out of only a few times before Ruby revoked my outside privileges.

That screen door I am thinking of led to sunny skies, friendly neighbors, fun-filled days, life lessons and endless possibilities.

That screen door on Algonquin Street led me to becoming a neighborhood-renowned chef at the age of five, in my friend Nicole Belcher’s backyard. We would make the fanciest, most spectacular mud pies in the area and -- if I remember correctly -- the tastiest ones, too.

I learned with hard work, you could even make dirt beautiful. It is not about what you are have but about what you do with what you have.

That same screen door led me to becoming a scholar at six years of age. My front porch is where Louis Jones had class and my grandfather bestowed his wisdom and knowledge to me or whomever, whenever he had the opportunity. I wish I could bottle his wisdom and sell it today. At the time I didn’t realize on that front porch, he was giving me his most valuable treasures.

My grandparents’ screen door led me to one of my greatest adventures of all times, the time me and my big cousin Nettie took a walk to the penny candy store on Jefferson and Algonquin with all of our friends. Picture it, about eight girls ranging in ages from six to twelve years old, in the middle of the street walking four blocks to one of the busiest streets in Detroit to go to one of the many ultimate penny candy stores in our neighborhood.

There appeared to be over 200 types of candy my two dollars could buy; I could have gotten one of each. I still remember Gumby playing on the 13-inch color television behind the store’s counter. I learned during the trip, the world was huge and there was so much more to see.

The author's block from 1977-88. Her childhood home is in the middle on the right.

That screen door that was two houses away from Goethe Street, led me to becoming a death-defying stunt woman at seven years old, when I got on my red Strawberry Shortcake bike and flew for what seemed like at least ten minutes, chin-first into the sidewalk in front of Mr. Price’s house. I remember being in the air and thinking to myself, “How is this going to end?”

That moment right there, I realized I was much tougher and stronger than I ever imagined.

That gray metal screen door located at 3407 Algonquin Street led to me meeting a legendary superstar, when my uncle Louie walked me down the block for me to discover I was about to shake hands with Stevie Wonder, because he was visiting his cousin who lived on their street. My block was so special, Stevie Wonder used to visit.

I learned then life was filled with surprises and opportunities. I could be whoever I wanted to be because success was obtainable from right where little old me used to live.

As I close my eyes to reminisce, I instantly feel the warmth today from all the hearts of those who lived on Algonquin Street between Mack Avenue and Goethe Street between 1977 and 1988. My memories give me hope for the city that I once knew so well.

The street lights were my sign each night my family was about to call my name. The same anticipation I felt swinging that screen door to the left to the world outside, I felt when swinging it to the right, to the love that lived inside of Ruby’s house.

Because when Ruby Jones was here, Detroit was where I called my home.

© 2017, Belt Publishing

Buy the book

► The publisher mails pre-ordered copies now. They're $20 each, plus $4 shipping, at this page. Order by Aug. 21 and get a hand-drawn map of Detroit neighborhoods by Alex B. Hill.

Launch party

► The publisher hosts a free reading and celebration with drinks and snacks from 6-8 p.m. at Signal Return print shop, 1345 Division St. in the Eastern Market area. No signup needed.  

Read other chapters

We Look Out for Each Other in Minock Park, by Erin Marquis

Our Bungalow on Braile, by Ian Thibodeau

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