FLINT, Michigan—The Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village sits on high ground. For nearly 100 years it has sat at the top of the hill on North Saginaw Street just south of Stewart Avenue, serving at times as a beacon of opportunity, sometimes as a harsh reminder of the disinvestment in Flint.
Today, its rebirth — three years in the making — was celebrated at an official grand opening for the 62,000-square-foot building that state Rep. Sheldon Neeley calls a “lighthouse of hope.”
Today, the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village is home to early childhood education, summer camp, tutoring, and nutrition programs. Today, 500 children a week walk these halls.
“It’s hard to overestimate the importance of what this means,” says U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee. “We have struggles, but we always get through them and this is an example of how we do.”
Built as Dewey Elementary School, the looming brick building opened in 1921. Back then, Flint’s population was just under 100,000 (about what it is now). Its population had doubled in the previous decade and would grow by another 70 percent over the next decade to more than 155,000 residents.
The school closed in 1991, when the city was dealing with massive exodus of people from the city, which started in the 1970s and continued through two generations until finally slowing in recent years.
Five years later, Job Central (later called Career Alliance) reopened the building to do workforce development, and it took the Sylvester Broome name in honor of the respected county commissioner from Flint’s northside whose commitment to involving community earned him widespread respect. It closed in 2012 — until two business owners including Dr. Jawad Shah purchased the building and began the arduous process of breathing new life into its walls.
Purchased in 2015, years have been spent bringing the facility back into the condition the community deserves and adding additional programing at the center, says Maryum Rasool, executive director of the center. Shah remains chairman of the board for the empowerment village and deeply committed to its purpose, which is centered around education and creating a “path out of poverty.”
“I was dreaming of this day,” Rasool says as she looks out over the throngs of people who have joined her to celebrate the official grand opening on Friday, June 29, 2018, of what she usually calls SBEV.
Just keeping the doors open costs about a half-million dollars a year — even with Rasool’s fierce ability to receive donated services and other help. And, now, after three years, this year, for the first year, Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village is fully up and running with a full slate of programming and opportunities.
There is a computer lab upstairs, programming by the YMCA, partnerships with universities, support for those recently released from prison and working to rebuild their lives, the Flint Muslim Food Pantry (which serves people of all faiths), Hurley Wellness Services, and a long list of other entities.
“This building is 100 years old and it has millions of happy memories,” Rasool says.
And, more to come.