Knocking Out Blight

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Repair the World fellow Joel Millman of Detroit and director of Repair the World Detroit Ben Falik of Huntington Woods with Tommy Hearns

What happens when a world champion teams up with Repair the World and volunteers from near and far? Together, they take one small, important step to repairing his corner of the world.

The champ is Tommy Hearns: the Hitman, the Motor City Cobra, the first boxer in history to win five world titles in five different divisions. His corner, now that he’s retired from boxing, is East Grand Boulevard and Helen Street, where he grew up on Detroit’s East Side.

Packard produced its last car two blocks away in 1957, the year before Hearns was born. The neighborhood’s “tough love” helped mold him into a Hall of Fame fighter. When Hearns returned to Helen Street, he found no houses remaining — not the house he grew up in nor any other homes on the block. In their place, weeds grew up to his shoulders and pheasants roamed among illegally dumped car parts.

But the place still spoke to him. And so did his old neighbors, who shared their pride in his accomplishments and desire to see him reconnect with his roots. So he stayed in touch with them and reached out to Repair the World, a Jewish service organization, as well as friends and fans, including Jackie Kallen and Ryan Fishman. Together, they mowed, weeded, mulched and painted to help clean up and beautify the neighborhood in advance of a major community celebration Hearns is planning for August.

Here are some quotes from the people there:

“I can’t thank all the people who came out or helped out enough. It’s just with such a joy and light that I get to see all these folks get involved with me in my passion. I want to see Detroit move forward. This city made me who I am today; this neighborhood made me who I am today. It was so hard to drive down Helen just two weeks ago, and now it’s a beautiful thing. Ryan really got us together with the city in a way I couldn’t have imagined, and Jackie has always been there for me — it’s a thrill.”
Tommy Hearns

BrettMountain-0014“I wanted to help Tommy because his goal was inspiring — literally.

Here’s one of Detroit’s native sons who understands his role in what our community would call ‘tikkun olam,’ and literally wanted to repair the corner of our world that made him a champion — eight times over.

Tommy’s desire to inspire others who made their mark after Detroit made their mark on them is an important goal, and it’s something we should play a role in on either side of Eight Mile. Beyond that, to stand with a world champion and class act like Tommy and a pioneer of women’s rights like Jackie, that’s not an experience you have every day. Like Jackie breaking ground as a female promoter, my great-grandfather Samuel Rosenthal was one of the first Jewish boxing promoters with some of the first Jewish fighters in American history.” -Ryan Fishman, 13th District State Senate Candidate

“Mayor Duggan says every neighborhood in Detroit has a future. We know that each, too, has a history. And when you can draw on it — and on the energy and optimism of people from all walks of life — to inform and energy the future, it’s a powerful one-two punch. Pun intended!” -Ben Falik, director of Repair the World in Detroit
Jackie Kallen

“I have found over the years that people in the Jewish community are usually the first to volunteer for a good cause and the first to do the actual hands-on work. It’s all a part of our sense of community. Helping others is a common theme in the Jewish culture. I have worked with Thomas Hearns for over 35 years, and he has done many things to give back to the people of Detroit. It was amazing to see young people raking alongside older folks and people from the suburbs rubbing elbows with those from the city. All in all, a wonderful day of hope, new beginnings and camaraderie.”

-Jackie Kallen, First Lady of Boxing

Eric Greenberg, Huntington Woods

“It’s amazing the good you can do with a pile of woodchips and the friends you can make over a tray of hamburgers. And I got to grill one for the champ! Obviously, there’s a lot of work yet to do, but you could feel the momentum. I’ll definitely be back for the block party in August.”
-Eric Greenberg, Volunteer

Additional Photos:

William Parkinson, 10, of Oak Park Camille Johnson, 11, of Detroit

Photos by Brett Mountain

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