FLINT, Michigan—Two men arrive early in the morning. An even breeze provides a slight chill to ease the work to come. Charles Tutt and Matthew McEwan—members of King Avenue PLUS, a north Flint neighborhood organization—are there to clear debris and weeds for a garden spanning nine lots on the westside of Martin Luther King Avenue.
They are joined on Wednesday, June 28, 2017, by about a half-dozen workers from Ruth Mott Foundation and other volunteers in cars or trucks with trailer loads of plants to transform these once blighted lots on the block between McClellan and Genesee streets.
Today is the day that these lots are transformed into the Martin Luther King Avenue Peace Garden.
“We’re trying to make a transformation here. We’re asking other members of the community to come out and change the way this lot is seen and used. As opposed to being vacant, blighted land,” Tutt said, “we want this to be something that people can use, gain inspiration from, and continue to support.”
The King Avenue PLUS group is the brainchild of Barbara Culp, who’s lived kitty-corner on from the lots “for darn near 40 years, I’d say.” She flashes a large grin as she picks up two Annabelle hydrangeas from the back of a trailer.
“I would be looking out of my window and all I would see is so much blight,” Culp says. “And, when the housing came down, I knew I wanted to be a part of whatever happened over here.”
Culp began working a lot with King Avenue PLUS and looking for ways to get funding for a beautification initiative. Culp visited other peace gardens and monuments around the country. It just seemed like the right idea to have one in Flint, too.
"One of the complaints we heard the most was: ‘This is not what Martin Luther King Avenue should look like. To see blight is not what he was about,'” Culp says.
A combination of funding and hands-on planning assistance came together to make the peace park a reality.
Applewood and the Ruth Mott Foundation gave expertise to draw the plans and choose plants that will thrive, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation funded a BRAND grant from Habitat for Humanity to make the garden happen, Genesee County Land Bank arranged the lease, and Neighborhood Engagement Hub gave the project support, including the know-how to work the equipment.
The group on Wednesday set about planting some 190 plants—including goatsbeard, wisteria, clematis, roses, coneflower, bee balm and butterfly weed. The garden also features a large mound stones arranged to spell out “MLK”—"so passers-by know what this stands for," Culp says.
McEwan leans up form placing a couple more plants and points. “We’re heading all the way to the fence line," he says, "so you can see we got the work cut out for us. We’ll be cleaning brush and planting all the way along."
The garden remains a work in progress. Culp says they need help delivering water, trimming, as well as removing some wood and debris.
“Getting water to these plants is a big issue, we want to reach out to folks who may be able to donate their time or equipment, like rain barrels and such, to help maintain the area,” says Culp, who has been known to run her own garden hose across the street to maintain the garden.
Yes, it is a lot of work. Yes, there is still more work to be done. Yes, it is worth it, Culp says as she brushes dirt from her hands.
“You can see already what this is doing for the community. People see that mound with those letters on it, they know that this place is dedicated to what Dr. King stood for,” she says, “and that also means, we've still got work to do.”
For more information or to help support the Martin Luther King Avenue Community Garden, go to 3216 MLK Ave. or call (810) 348-5332 to contact Jane Richardson, the Neighborhood Engagement Hub special projects facilitator.