DETROIT — Jordan Morgan emerged from the back of a house on the 4800 block of Courville Street, spectacled with safety goggles and hands covered with yard work gloves. His shirt was already dirty from an hour of work clearing out a backyard overgrown with tree branches and vine, but his demeanor was upbeat.
Just like in his playing days, the former Michigan basketball standout center Morgan suited up ready to get to work. He led and others graciously followed his example. The teamwork that Morgan believes is so invaluable improved this block in Detroit by way of clearing and boarding up two abandoned houses and their yards while removing debris from the surrounding areas last Saturday afternoon.
“It’s a great opportunity for people to come out and meet other people that are still deeply invested in the city and the welfare of the city and the neighborhoods,” Morgan said. “Probably half of our volunteers came from the Jordan Morgan Foundation and the (Ann Arbor-based Merit) Fate program, and the other half are families and neighbors and people that live here and want to be a part of it.
“They want to see the neighborhood look better because they grew up here or they’ve lived here their whole life.”
Throughout the day, people from the neighborhood, especially teenagers, came to support the effort. Neighbors continually approached Morgan, asking if they could work. He quickly invited them to put on a pair of gloves, grab a Jordan Morgan Foundation T-shirt from his car, and assist wherever help was needed.
Detroit District Four Manager O’Dell Tate especially appreciated the help. At first, Tate looked upon the community members working together from his car with an appreciative smile. Later, he got closer to the action: talking with the volunteers, learning about the clean-up efforts he works to provide the city with.
“For one, (community cleanups) boosts the morale of the residents in the community, and allow them to bring back the pride and the hope again in restoring their community,” Tate said. “These young people coming out as volunteers are making a major dent in some of the blight in terms of cleaning up abandoned houses and cutting down the shrubbery and weeds. And boarding (the houses) up makes them safe and secure.
“This allows the neighborhood to take a step in the right direction to securing its home stock so that we can get potential new families back into these houses and renovate them.”
The combined effort of the Jordan Morgan Foundation, the Fate Program, Morningside Neighborhood Association and students from the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy put the two houses well on their way to becoming homes again. Families may not inhabit the buildings any time soon, but the neighborhood was made safer the instant the last board was put over the final window frame.
Sixteen children live on the block, and the volunteers not only made the street a safer place for the kids, but for everyone who calls Courville Street home. Morgan cited issues like squatting and various criminal activities as examples of what can go wrong when leaving an abandoned house wide open. The yards of these houses, which can be unkempt and crowded with shrubbery and branches, can also become an eye sore to the neighbors nearby enjoying their backyards.
“Every house that we can save and rehab to restore and preserve, that’s the goal to get families back into these houses — to make it a very strong and solid community,” Tate said.
Morgan’s passion for volunteering has grown over the years. Even when playing basketball for Michigan and professionally all over the world, he has always held his hometown of Detroit in a special place in his heart, feeling a kind of obligation to give back to the city that raised him.
“I know that it’s not on my own that I got where I am,” Morgan said. “It’s through my hard work, but also from so much help from others, that I’ve gotten to the point where I’m at now. That’s why it’s important to me, because you can have a lasting impact on peoples’ lives just by the interactions you have with them.
“That was the whole purpose of starting the foundation, to have an impact on peoples’ lives in the city of Detroit, to impact the youth in Detroit and to be a good model and influence on youth.”
Morgan’s foundation’s mission states, “My hope is that through this foundation, myself and others will provide education, support and encouragement to today’s youth so that each child has the opportunity to overcome any circumstance.” And even through just one five-hour-long event, that belief and declaration is evident. Morgan wants to be a resource to his community, whether he is in Detroit or playing basketball overseas. Especially in Michigan’s largest city, he wants to be a resource to help others achieve as much as possible.
The impact Morgan wants to make is one that lasts, one that sticks. He doesn’t want his passion and influence to wither away. As those who have helped him become the man he is today through support, he wants to display his appreciation by paying it forward.
For those who want to make an impact in their respective communities, he lends simple, but effective advice: “Just do it.”
“I didn’t have a plan,” Morgan said. “For a lot of this stuff that was done, it was like, ‘Just do it.’ With the foundation, we just jumped in and said, ‘We’re gonna do it,’ and we got a tremendous amount of support from so many people … If you go out with the right intentions and set out to just do something, there are so many good people in this world that can help you achieve that if you just seek out the help to accomplish something good.”
Detroit and many other cities in the United States need people like Morgan and their foundations to step up and get their hands dirty. So many can benefit from the acts of a few. Sometimes the work may seem small and insignificant, but citizens appreciate selfless attempts to volunteer and serve.
Tate, who, among his other responsibilities, starts “block clubs” in Detroit neighborhoods, is especially grateful. The block clubs allow the blocks to be self-sufficient and have their own way of self-governance. Saturday’s volunteer work was a step in the right direction to provide a firm foundation for the street.
“We’re very thankful today to have Jordan Morgan and his foundation and his volunteers that come out and be part of this great effort,” Tate said. “That’s what it takes. It takes a whole community to come together, to work together to stabilize the community.”