By Paige Pearcy, Deputy Magazine Editor
Published March 24, 2013
From 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., parts of Detroit looked like Ann Arbor with the amount of students wearing maize and blue.
No, they weren’t at the basketball game, or the hockey game. They were volunteering as part of the 14th annual Detroit Parntership Day.
DP Day is an annual day of service-based learning for University students put on by the Detroit Partnership, a student organization committed to uniting the University and the Motor City through community service projects. DP Day is the largest event the Detroit Partnership hosts each year and the largest service-learning day at the University.
This year, there were approximately 1,400 volunteers at 29 sites spread throughout Detroit and surrounding areas. LSA senior Phil Berkaw, major events director for the Detroit Partnership, and LSA senior Kristin Beharry, the group’s executive director, were in charge of organizing the event.
“We’re not trying to fix the city in a single day, at all. That’s not our goal nor is it really our role to try to,” Berkaw said. “We really view it as an introduction for students to Detroit, to see that it’s not maybe what the media paints it across the country or even by media outlets in Detroit, and just to see the city for what it truly is.”
Planning for the event started in December when sites were contacted to see if they wanted to participate. When sites were finalized, volunteers were recruited. The event's total budget sums to $35,000; the money comes from various sources including grants, corporate sponsors and multicultural organizations at the University.”
“One of our huge funders is Ford, they always donate a lot,” Beharry said. “It’s mainly Michigan-based companies that want to give back to the DP and to the Detroit community in general.”
Volunteers at work
For Engineering graduate student Darin McLeskey and University of Michigan-Dearborn senior Tyson Gersh, the founders of the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative, DP Day has a special significance: they met in 2011 at a DP Day meeting.
“We both kept asking questions like ‘Where’s the agriculture?’ ” Gersh said. “And then we both found each other afterwards and I was like ‘Hey, you asked a lot of questions about agriculture and so did I.’ ”
At the MUFI site on Brush Street, from afar it appeared that students were standing in just that — brush. Up close, it could be seen that they were using pickaxes, rakes and shovels to clear the brush and clean up the space.
McLeskey said DP Day falls at the beginning of their farming season.
“It’s a good way to get a lot of people down here and really clean up everything that’s accumulated over the winter, and it’s a good kick-off event,” he said.
LSA sophomore Corey Walsh, a participant at the site, said early in the day he worked with others to clear debris out of an abandoned house so it could be demolished.
“There’s a lot of hope for the city of Detroit left, and it just takes a lot manpower to try to reclaim it, and that's what we’re here trying to do,” Walsh said.
As Gersh was talking, three volunteers approached him holding bullets they found while cleaning out a house, a reminder of the city's crime problem.
“You’ll find lots of these,” Gersh said.
At Artist Village, another site, a group of students painted murals on the outside of buildings.
One of the painters, LSA sophomore Sarah Tiffany, said she returned to participate in DP Day for her second year because of an experience she had the previous year while volunteering in a park.
“All the homeless people came and thanked us for cleaning up their house, which made a huge impact on me because you don’t really realize that,” Tiffany said.
As the day came to a close, the painters got a visit from former Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr. Carr has attended DP Day for the past four years.
“I’m just so proud of all of these students, they’re awesome,” Carr said. “I’ve met literally hundreds of students in these past four years and I can see a difference in the community, which is a beautiful thing.”
Carr got his first teaching job, and subsequent coaching job, in the Detroit Public School System, which created his connection to the city.
“Down through the years of coaching at Michigan, I recruited this city, so I’ve had a lot of friends from here, a lot of players I’ve coached,” Carr said. “I think the one thing we all have in common is that we love the city, and so I’m just here to say thanks to the students.”
While students were painting, demolishing dilapidated structures and yard work at sites spread across the city, the day looked quite different for Berkaw and Beharry.
“I rarely get to see any of the sites. In the four years that I’ve done DP Day I’ve been to, like, two sites,” Berkaw said. “I’m usually just taking phone calls the whole time. There are points where we’ll be in a car all sitting together and three people are on the phone and I’m talking to two people at once, it’s wild.”
At the end of the day, the volunteers gathered in a park for a rally. At the rally, students heard from Carr, social justice activist Yusef Shakur and rapper FowL.
Beharry said this year DP Day was significant to her because of the increased involvement with the community.
“This year we’ve emphasized the social justice and service learning aspects of DP Day so much more than in the past,” Beharry said. “Which is something that I think is really going to help our volunteers contextualize what they’re doing on DP Day and will really help us work towards our mission, which is basically to break stereotypes about Detroit.”