When the Coalition for Community Development, a Muskegon Heights nonprofit, holds its annual “Winter Gathering of Friends” tomorrow, March 12, the event’s organizers hope it will tear down barriers between people and shine a light on the individuals and groups that are spearheading powerful change in the area.
The gathering will celebrate the people who live in Muskegon Heights, who have grown up in Muskegon Heights, who love Muskegon Heights—and, much like the Coalition for Community Development (CCD) itself, tomorrow’s event will showcase the strength that comes from neighbors lifting one another to build a community in which everyone is empowered and can thrive.
“The annual winter gathering highlights the great work the CCD is doing and the partnership they have with the neighborhood associations,” said Marquis Childers, Jr., an economic and prosperity consultant, a board member of CCD, and the vice president of the Neighborhood Associations of Michigan.
“It’s a time where we can gather with everyone from throughout the community—from each of our neighborhood associations to different nonprofits and our elected officials,” Childers continued. “We’re able to get to know one another.”
All are welcome to attend the free event, which will take place Thursday, March 12 from 4:30pm to 6:30pm at The Center, located at 2244 Peck St. in Muskegon Heights.
During the gathering, attendees will have the chance to learn about the CCD, a nonprofit that Dr. Doris Rucks founded in 2004; the organization’s mission is to build relationships with neighbors to support a thriving community in Muskegon Heights. A nonprofit that partners with people and organizations throughout the area, the CCD’s work includes being active in the school garden programs at Edgewood and Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary Schools, overseeing a community garden—Seeds of Hope—near Barney and Leahy, and introducing an initiative that holds chef demonstrations throughout the city. At Thursday’s event, Chef Edriese Jenkins will show attendees how to create healthy meals that everyone will enjoy.
The CCD also sponsors community gatherings, literacy events and special programs for children and families through the Friends of Muskegon Heights District Library. The nonprofit offers a literacy team that runs local school libraries, as well as a mentorship program and committee that organizes field trips. Plus, the CCD’s beautification team helps to organize and collaborate on citywide lot and park cleanups.
As part of Thursday’s celebration, Childers will give a presentation on the four neighborhood associations in Muskegon Heights—the Woodcliffe Neighborhood Association, the Bethlehem Neighborhood Association, the West Side Neighborhood Association, and the Crescent Neighborhood Association. The Crescent Neighborhood Association was recently formed after Childers partnered with CCD Executive Director Kerri VanderHoff and the Muskegon Community Health Innovation Region (CHIR) to lead the South Heights PhotoVoice Initiative Exhibition, a photography exhibition that placed the power of storytelling into the hands of residents.
The culmination of months of South Heights residents documenting their lives, the photography project brings to light issues—such as affordable housing and education—that the artists involved in the exhibition hope will take center stage when it comes to policy and discussions impacting the future of the area. The exhibition will also be on display during Thursday’s event.
Explaining the power of the neighborhood associations, Childers said the organizations allow residents to become informed, as well as spread information, about their communities and create the change they want to see.
“We had residents who felt left out or that they were missing out on information,” Childers said. “For example, there were residents who wondered how the Glendale school was torn down and they had no idea it was going to happen. The residents wanted that particular building to be a community center for youth.”
“The whole goal is to give people some power in their own community,” said Childers, who spearheaded efforts to form a neighborhood association council, which meets monthly and is made up of leaders from the various associations. Childers did so at CHIR’s launch of the Muskegon County 100-day challenge called the “Livability Lab.”
“It gives empowerment to the residents,” Childers said of the neighborhood associations.
It is these ideas—ones of empowerment and neighborhood-level organizing—that are driving Thursday’s event. The event is meant to be a fun gathering, but it’s also part of a larger, powerful landscape—one in which residents are not only at the decision-making table, but are building a table for themselves.
It is a celebration of what can happen when people join together, listen to one another, and go out and act in their community.
“I’d love for everyone to come out tomorrow,” Childers said. “It’s a chance to connect the residents with important decision-makers, and it gives us a chance to humanize each other, have a good time, and get to know one another. It’s about bridging gaps between race, gender, age, and political views.”