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Highland Park Mom Transforms Blighted Neighborhood To Beauty While Suffering Devastating Loss

(CBS DETROIT)- For many years the city of Highland Park has gotten a bad rap for abandonment and blight, but where most saw hopelessness, one lifelong resident saw a beautiful future.

"The block was terribly blighted and it needed love and a bunch of years ago we decided to come over here and I said I'm going to bring my ministry over here and we're going to work on this block and create something beautiful for the children and the community," said Shamayim Harris.

That's exactly what "Mama Shu," as she's affectionately known set out to do.

The vision of transforming a city block into the area now known as Avalon Village came from a place of grief.

"My 2-year-old, he got hit by a car in 2007. Six months after he got killed, I bought the house," Mama Shu said.

Her nine-year journey to bring it all to fruition began.

Today there's a garden and community space in honor of Jakobi Ra. As well a village hall where community members can hold events and the homeless can seek shelter.

To provide a safe and educational place for the youth, there's a STEM lab, and in 2021 through grants, a full basketball court was built, and the newest project Mama Shu says was five years in the making, is the homework house.

"They can eat dinner, they can get their homework and assignments done if their lights and gas and everything is cut off and their families are struggling with some things they're able to come here and take a shower," she said.

Last year while the homework house was in the process of opening, Mama Shu experienced another devastating loss.

Her 23-year-old son Chinyelu was shot to death while protecting the space his mother was creating.

She says a year to the date he died, the house became official.

"The homework house was officially OK'd on that day, I'm like son you know you can get down from the heavens."

Through her loss, Mama Shu continues to grow her village, a playground and tennis courts expected to replace overgrown yards. A shipping container has been transformed to the Goddess Marketplace, selling goods from local women entrepreneurs.

This summer, concerts will be held in the Jakobi Ra garden, and it's all done in an eco-space. All the buildings are solar-powered.

The high-tech solar street lights serve as free wi-fi for the neighborhood.

She says this may have come from a place of pain, but it's helping her, and a community heal.

"I know that my children are psychically not here and I know that I'm their mother I am Chinyelu, I am Jakobi Ra I'm both of those boys, those boys were me so obviously we aren't dead," said Mama Shu.

Avalon Village works operates through grants, volunteers and donations. To help with Mama Shu's vision visit their website below:
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