Erica Wright’s eyes were rimmed with tears as he spoke.
S.A.Y. Detroit was visiting Wright’s summer session for a lunchtime pizza party at her Westside Cultural & Athletic Club nonprofit on a recent Thursday when Derrick R. Coleman paid her a surprise visit.
Nearly 40 years ago, Coleman was a 6-year-old boy on Detroit’s west side — “growing up around heroin addicts,” he said — when he found solace, support and love in the form of a woman who had created a youth program out of her home to keep children on the straight and narrow.
That woman was Erica Wright, who founded the Westside Cultural and Athletic Club in 1976.
Today, Coleman, 45, is superintendent of the River Rouge school district. Earlier this year, he was a finalist for Detroit’s superintendent position; Coleman is also working on his doctorate.
“Each one of us has a story to tell,” Coleman told Wright’s 22 teen leaders assembled that day at West Side Academy. “How could I become a district superintendent when my mom didn’t graduate from high school and I didn’t know who my father was? A big part of why I went into education was because of Ms. Wright.”
He looked over at Wright, who was standing to his right in the classroom at the school, where food was being distributed to the needy one floor below outside its doors.
Wright and her grass-root’s nonprofit, which S.A.Y. Detroit supports through funding from Mitch Albom’s annual S.A.Y. Detroit Radiothon, received statewide recognition in 2013 when she was recognized with the Governor’s Service Award.
Coleman said he can’t emphasize enough what Wright and her program did for him during his youth.
“I had a good family, but this woman sheltered a burden for the entire community,” he said. “I was a kid who dealt with self-esteem issues. I never played a down of high school football, or basketball. I needed someone to breathe life into me.
“Everything I do in life now is to be of service for others. She quit her job at the IRS and became, (essentially), the mother of an orphanage. I’m here in my Gucci loafers, but that doesn’t qualify as success. She sacrificed for other people’s kids. If money didn’t mater, what would I do? I’d be Erica.”
When Coleman’s talk was finished, he was swallowed up by Wright’s loving arms in a long embrace.
“I am the one who’s grateful,” she said.
Today marks the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a campaign to increase S.A.Y. Detroit has taken to raise public awareness about the realities of sexual assault and violence, and to educate about how to prevent it.
Mitch Albom and S.A.Y. Detroit have taken a very visible stand on this and support organizations that help survivors of rape and sexual assault, and take active measures in the education about and prevention of such crime. At last month’s press conference distributing the funds raised during the 2016 Radiothon, three organizations were featured that directly work in this area. While many of the issues surrounding rape and sexual assault are intersectional, it is vital to fund and support programs that are particularly focused on supporting survivors.
A first time recipient, the SASHA Center is a sexual assault services center for rape survivors in Detroit. A former adjunct professor at Marygrove College — and a sexual assault awareness consultant to the NBA — Kalimah Johnson opened the SASHA Center in 2010 after working for 15 years in the Detroit Police Department’s victim assistance program. She noticed there was a big difference in how women got serviced based on how they looked and what their background was. Kalimah created SASHA in part to take shame and guilt away for survivors of sexual assault.
“This gift of $10,000 will assist us in creating sacred and safe spaces for survivors of sexual assault throughout Detroit and add more sessions to our calendar for survivors of sexual assault,” Kalimah explained.
“Particularly, this funding will go towards helping us run our peer educational support groups including transportation to and from group locations, snacks for our meetings, space rental, facilitator training and payment, art supplies for group, and group programs for survivors to learn the significant historical relevance for the full integration of the traumatic experiences they have had as a result of sexual assault. The possibilities are endless!”
For the second-straight year, S.A.Y. Detroit is supporting Vista Maria, which has been helping young people for more than 130 years. This year we’re pledging funds to help support their Lost Voices program, which offers girls in Vista Maria’s residential care the support to express themselves through music, songwriting and performance. Eminem kick-started their fundraising with a $2,500.00 donation. S.A.Y. Detroit doubled that amount with a $5,000.00 grant.
According to Nicole Lewis, chief marketing and fund development officer at Vista Maria: The Lost Voices program offers two, five-day expressive therapy workshops for approximately 40 girls receiving residential treatment and care at Vista Maria. Many of the youth served in Vista Maria’s residential treatment programs come from impoverished backgrounds and have limited exposure to fine arts and musical education. Most of them are there to escape lives of abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Bringing the Lost Voices program to Vista Maria’s campus vastly expands their ability to work through their prior trauma and express themselves through music.
Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries’ Dignity Project
Just over two years ago, the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries launched an important program called The Dignity Project to help victims of human trafficking. This program provides safe shelter and loving care to victims, giving them time to address their legal, medical and emotional needs. They received a gift of $10,000.
Representatives from 20 area charities accepted checks totaling more than $1 million on Tuesday from donations raised at Mitch Albom’s fifth annual S.A.Y. Detroit Radiothon last December.
The ceremony at the Fisher Building included several first-time beneficiaries, including the Bing Youth Institute — a mentoring program for urban youth created by former Detroit Mayor and NBA legend Dave Bing.
Albom, who founded S.A.Y. Detroit in 2006, presented the checks to the benefiting charities with Dr. Chad Audi, president of the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, along with representatives of several major donor organizations. (more…)
For the second year in a row, the annual S.A.Y. Detroit Radiothon raised more than $1 million during it’s fifteen-hour broadcast from the Somerset Collection in Troy, MI on Thursday, December 8. The day featured interviews with old and new friends, including Hugh Jackman Dr. Phil, Lily Tomlin, Tim Allen, Jane Pauley, Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Stanley, Alice Cooper, Dax Shepard, Jeff Daniels, Dan Gilbert, Andre Drummond, Detroit Lion’s QB Matthew Stafford, Red Wings’ captain Henrik Zetterberg, Mayor Mike Duggan. Joining in as cohosts throughout the day were bestselling author Dave Barry and jazz great John Pizzarelli, who crafted many personalized jingles for callers.
Though the final announced tote board put donations at $1,027,675.40, donations have continued to pour in, raising the current total above $1,045,000. Funds were raised by donations from callers and sponsors, as well as auctions of one-of-a-kind experiences, such as a trip to Los Angeles to meet Dr. Phil and attend a taping of his show as a VIP, brunch with Jane Pauley in NYC, private airplane rides over Detroit and to East Lansing or Ann Arbor, professional video taping of some time on the field with Matthew Stafford or on the ice with Hank Zetterberg go a jacket worn by Sawyer Fredericks of The Voice, which brought in the highest bid at $7,000. The donation form, as well as remaining incentive items like signed memorabilia, remain available at www.mitchalbomradiothon.com through the weekend.
For the first time this year, the live stream was available on Mitch Albom’s Facebook page through Facebook Live, reaching audiences as far as Hong Kong and Gold Coast, Australia.
While the day brought must-listen entertainment on stage and over the line, the true joy shared comes from the testimonials shared by those who have been helped by the charities benefitting from the radiothon: Adam Transki, an Iraq war vet and former Marine, battled back addiction and homelessness with the help of the Michigan Veterans Foundation, and is now a senior in college; Zana, formerly homeless, is working her way through Vista Maria’s transitional housing to pursue a high school diploma and hopes to attend college to study dance; D’mitri Moore, a Detroit Dream Scholarship recipient graduated from the College for Creative Studies and now works in the creative department for MARS in Detroit, while his classic Steve McQueen poster won the Grand Prix poster competition; Briana Bicy was formerly homeless. She was squatting in an abandoned house when police found her (and her children). With her mentor at COTS and with the help of Bright Beginnings Day Care, she now works with “Rebel Nell’’ Jewelry, which hires underemployed and impoverished women to make jewelry; Sisters Unika and India, and their friend Daejanique, who have become mentors to younger students after finding solace in Erica Wright’s grassroots Westside Cultural & Athletic Club, which fills the void of parents who are involved in drugs or other negative behaviors; the moving story of Fr. Tim of the Pope Francis Center, who found Rosey White homeless and crying on his church steps and through the church found a job, a home, and then started her own literacy program for the poor and homeless; a woman who found a critical and life-saving diagnosis through the S.A.Y. Detroit Family Health Clinic; and the story of a retired naval officer and his student mentee at the S.A.Y. Detroit Play Center.
As has become tradition, three families were given the keys to their homes through the Working Homes/Working Families program, which pairs refurbished homes with working families, in need of decent housing, who can maintain them. Mia and her family of 9 children became homeless after a fire destroyed her home in March 2015. She lost everything but her family. She currently lives with her kids in the home of a church member. As of today, Mia will move into her new house on Dec. 21 (fingers crossed!), right before the holidays. Lillie and her 3 girls children hopefully will be able to move in before Christmas (Dec. 23). Lillie is currently being housed by the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries. Lillie has had a tough life. Her mother was murdered when she was 1, and her grandmother died a couple of weeks later. She was in the foster care system for a while and eventually became homeless, sleeping in a car. Retired army sergeant Leo Cooke and his family were moved into their new home the following day.
The day reflected the best of Detroit’s spirit of community, cooperation, and generosity
Detroit, Michigan – March 17 – Representatives from 20 area charities gathered Thursday at the Fisher Building to accept checks totaling more than $1 million in donations raised at Mitch Albom’s fourth annual S.A.Y. Detroit Radiothon last December. (more…)