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Human Interest

Michigan Woman Shines a (Solar-Powered!) Light on Her Abandoned Neighborhood: ‘I Want the Good Life’

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Episode 5 of AMERICAN DOERS, a new 12-part video series featuring original thinkers, innovators, craftspeople, risk-takers and artisans across the United States.

In Shamayim Harris’ hometown of Highland Park, Michigan, more than 50 percent of the population lives in poverty.

In 2011, the city could not afford its electric bill, so the energy company turned off the street lights and physically repossessed them. But Harris, who is affectionately known as “Mama Shu,” refused to let Highland Park go dark.

As she set out to rebuild a half-abandoned nearby block, she focused on transforming her community into a sustainable eco-village. One of the first steps was installing the first residential solar street light in 2014.

For more American Doers, go to americandoers.people.com.

“I’m very proud to have that light,” she tells PEOPLE. “It shines every night — there’s no bill for it.”

Harris owns 10 properties within what is now called Avalon Village, including an after-school homework house and a community park.

“It’s important to me to build everything in Avalon Village with a green infrastructure because our neighborhood is poor and a lot of times we can’t afford electric bills,” she says.

Harris hopes to have the project completed by 2018.

“I want the good life,” she continues. “So I figured, ‘Hey, let’s start building the good life!’ “