Sign of the times
A Detroiter signals distress from a neighborhood under siege
Published: July 18, 2012
He's older now, and uses the garden as a means to teach kids not just how to grow food for themselves, but also to give them lectures that hopefully stick with them a little, telling them that the life they're surrounded by isn't normal life, that they shouldn't get sucked into the madness, that there are ways out. But he's retired, and he's not getting out, and he's determined not to accept how things have become.
"You walk down the street you might get shot just for the hell of it, but I'm committed to this," he bellows. "I don't give a shit how crazy these people are. I love Detroit. It's a hell of a place, man."
It's Ventura's birthday, and he's put a keg of Budweiser in the yard to celebrate. It has drawn the neighbors to the playground, and now a half-dozen adults drink beer from plastic cups as their kids play on the swings.
Ventura dispenses the beer from the shade next to his house. He's made the place bulletproof — the siding is concrete board, the door is a thick metal mesh that bends to absorb bullets, and the rest of the facade is fire-resistant composite, in case anyone tries to torch him out of the neighborhood.
Thieves just hit his yard again the other night. Aluminum ladders this time. And like every time something else gets taken from him, he says he's on the verge of just giving up and bailing from the city, from his self-appointed mission to help fix things.
Yet just like every other time, he's still watching over the playground whenever kids are there, he's still helping tend the community garden even after people from the community came and smashed its watermelons and cantaloupes on the sidewalk. And he's still firing off letters to the mayor and council accusing them of incompetence and negligence for presiding over collapsing neighborhoods. Despite his frustration, he's a disaster relief worker, and his days are based on helping people struck by disasters.
"I can't walk away from these children, but I ain't got nothing else to give," he says. "I'm broke as hell. I can't afford to stay, and I can't afford to get out."
Cars passing by slow down and look as they spot the sign. Ventura said he'd take it down days after it went up, but here it stands a year later. Its message still applies because little has changed.
"I don't want to be popular, but at this point somebody needs to put their foot down," he says. "Something needs to be done. This has gone too far. Somebody at this point needs to take some kind of grasp of this reality and figure out some solutions. Something has to happen."
Detroitblogger John is John Carlisle. He scours the Motor City for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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