Teen Son Inspired by Mother to Transform His Detroit Neighborhood: 'This Is His Baby'
“One day, it just kicked in. Who is she going to pass the torch to?” Chinyelu Harris says of his mother, Shamayim Harris
Episode 5 of AMERICAN DOERS, a new 12-part video series featuring original thinkers, innovators, craftspeople, risk-takers and artisans across the United States.
When Shamayim Harris of Highland Park, Michigan, began rebuilding a half-abandoned nearby block into a sustainable eco-village, she inspired her entire community. And no one was more moved into action than her son Chinyelu.
Harris owns 10 properties within what is now called Avalon Village, including an after-school homework house and a community park. And it all began with hard work and dedication. Harris and a group of volunteers removed mattresses, toilets, liquor bottles — even an abandoned boat — from the neighborhood. “It took a while to get to green grass,” she says.
And now Harris’s 19-year-old son is following in his mother’s footsteps as a doer and leader.
“My son is in charge of the landscaping of the block. This is his baby,” she tells PEOPLE. “Chinyelu is here 24/7 with me, just being responsible. I see that being built up in him.”
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Harris, who is affectionately known as “Mama Shu,” has a supportive team behind her, including city officials, licensed contractors and local youths who are learning useful trades while contributing to Avalon Village. And Chinyelu couldn’t wait to roll up his sleeves and start taking part in the mission.
“One day, it just kicked in. Who is she going to pass the torch to?” he says.
Harris hopes to have the project completed by 2018. And she’s motivated by the spirit of her community.
The people of Highland Park are resilient, we bounce back and we’re determined to make our city beautiful once again,” she says.