Grace in Action strengthens community in southwest Detroit

Youth entrepreneurship, art projects and more brighten up neighborhood

By: Andy Kozlowski | C&G Newspapers | Published June 8, 2015

METRO DETROIT — In the fall of 2010, John Cummings began talking to residents in the neighborhoods of southwest Detroit. He estimates that he had around 200 one-on-one conversations with the people in the community, developing a feeling for their passions, their interests and concerns.

Conversation led to collaboration, and five years later, there are two groups: Grace in Action, the church community with Cummings as pastor, and Grace in Action, the entrepreneurship arm and 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

The latter is a collective of youth groups that includes Radical Productions, a group of young students who design websites for clients that include neighborhood groups and nonprofits; and Stitching Up Detroit, a student-run screen-print operation that designs and makes T-shirts.

There are also other ways for the students to express themselves artistically. Sometimes they use the walls of buildings as their canvas — with permission from the property owner, of course. They have made a tile mosaic and two murals, with a third mural in the works at a former funeral home they now own.

Their artistic endeavors have also included guitar lessons and musical performances, as well as a magazine that compiled their handmade art and poetry. Prince of Glory Lutheran Church in Madison Heights helped support the magazine financially back when it was in circulation, and they have also donated guitars and sent someone to teach guitar lessons. They also purchased after-school food supplies for Grace in Action for the whole year, among other things.

“One of the best things they do there is they really speak to the kids and ask, ‘What direction do you want to go, and what do you want to be your focus?’” said Bob Hegdal, pastor at PoG. “The magazine has now morphed into the other things they do now. It’s all driven by the kids and how they want to participate. We want to help support that creative outlet and give them the tools necessary to accomplish something and feel present in their community.”

During the past five years, the Grace in Action church community has met in the living rooms of numerous homes across southwest Detroit. Now they and their entrepreneurial arm will have a more central location at the former Martenson Funeral Home, on Lawndale Street south of Vernor Highway, in Detroit. The funeral home was the first location opened by the Martenson family and is now closed so they could focus on their other locations downriver.

“They weren’t doing many funerals out of this particular building, but they wanted to continue to serve the neighborhood, so they donated the home to us,” Cummings said. “They thought what we were doing was a way to keep that legacy going in another capacity.”

Grace in Action has been retooling the funeral home into a worship center, community center and base of operations for Radical Productions, Stitching Up Detroit and more. They’ve been working on renovating it since January with new floors, lighting, furniture and more. The grand opening is targeted for June 20.

Hegdal said Grace in Action puts the concerns of the people of southwest Detroit first. It didn’t act like it knew better than them, but instead let the residents decide what needed to be done.

“This is organic and vibrant and addressing very specific needs in the community that have been identified by the community,” Hegdal said. “They didn’t go in with an action plan. They created and shaped one while being in the community. They went there to listen first, and then to react.”

Cummings said Grace in Action gets back to the original idea of a church.

“The concept of a church, in general, was originally a democratic assembly of people trying to address the injustices and oppression they saw in the society where they live. So trying to understand that and live it out today is what we’re doing now in southwest Detroit,” Cummings said. “It’s just a matter of bringing out that energy and finding ways to collaborate to create a better neighborhood for everyone.”

For more information about Grace in Action, visit graceinactiondetroit.org.