Steve Tobocman is the director of Global Detroit, which Knight Foundation supports to accelerate talent and advance opportunity in Detroit, one of 26 Knight communities. Photo: A Detroit neighborhood soccer team reflects and benefits from the diversity of the community. Credit: Global Detroit.
Southwest Detroit is frequently discussed as the one working-class neighborhood in Detroit that is revitalizing. It’s blessed by some of the most innovative and sophisticated nonprofit arts and community development corporations in the nation. While the community (as defined by the new Detroit City Council districts) is 39 percent African-American, 39 percent Latino and 18 percent white, it accounts for about half of the 35,000 foreign-born residents in the city. The neighborhood’s emerging success and its demographic makeup are not a coincidence.
I first started working on neighborhood revitalization issues in Southwest Detroit—the neighborhood where my immigrant grandfather once lived—through the AmeriCorps national service program in 1995. Eight years later—after helping to start campaigns against illegal dumping and graffiti, leading local zoning battles as a lawyer, serving as a volunteer hockey coach and devoting my life to the neighborhood’s revitalization—I was elected to represent Southwest Detroit in the Michigan House, where I served for three terms—the maximum allowed.