FLINT, Michigan — She is 81 years old. Mows her lawn and her neighbor’s and the neighbor’s across the street. And, shovels their driveways come winter so they can get to their doctor appointments.
She carries a confident tone in her voice and she stands with her back straight and tall. Her hands are weathered, but filled with strength. They’ve handled children, picked pecans, and put together V8 engines. She has knowing eyes, often marked with a noticeable twinkle of amusement.
She is a proud resident of Civic Park neighborhood for 33 years. This is Inez Taylor.
"She's been a godsend to the community," said neighbor Holly Kirshman, 45. "She takes care of my yard for me. She's done leaps and bounds beyond anything she would have had to do for anybody.”
Taylor is most certainly a child of God, but calling her a godsend for the help she gives her neighbors is just foolishness.
She’s just getting some exercise, Taylor says.
She carries a deep commitment to this historic neighborhood, built in 1919 by General Motors Modern Housing Corporation and this year celebrating its centennial. For Taylor, it was love at first sight.
Born to a mother of 15, Taylor was raised by cousins in Live Oak, Florida. She remembers being independent even at a young age.
“You could pretty much say that I raised myself,” Taylor says. “I had to take care of my adoptive mother’s mother. … I worked real hard picking up pecans, picking peas, tomatoes, all of that.”
Today, Taylor says those early years and the hard work she faced then gave her strong morals and a strong sense of self. By the age of 21, she was on her own and decided like so many others to head north to Flint, Michigan.
It was 1960 and, in a whirlwind year, Taylor found herself married, with a child, and settled into a home nestled between Buick City and Max Brandon Park on Edwin Avenue. She graduated from Northern High School with her GED and went to work in Flint Community Schools as part of a massive expansion in services through the Community Education Program launched by Charles Stewart Mott.
“I used to ride though this neighborhood when I first came to Flint, and this neighborhood was beautiful — and I do mean beautiful,” says Taylor of Civic Park. She remembers the houses, the greenery, the sense of community. She loved it all.
Along the way, she and her husband had four children. As she neared the age of 40, Taylor went to work for General Motors on the assembly line. Through it all, she kept her eye on Civic Park.
She would always say: “This is an area that I want to live in.”
And, in 1986, she got her wish.
The neighborhood went through radical changes in the coming years. Many families moved out. Crime increased. Abandonment became rampant. Today, the Civic Park School, which was built to be the center of the neighborhood, is closed and hundreds of homes have been demolished, green spaces replacing the blight.
Kirshman has lived on the corner of Taylor’s Street for a decade. She is disabled and unable to care for her property. Without question, Taylor began mowing her lawn, bringing her food, and even shoveling her snow during the winter.
Taylor, who retired after 27 years at General Motors, was one of several residents honored earlier this month at a Civic Park Centennial Summer Kickoff celebration for her longevity and commitment to the neighborhood. She was there, donned in white, hands gently clasped in front of her and occasionally covering her face as Pastor Robert McCathern disclosed her ongoing support.
A smile peaked through as she accepted her award. The smile was significant. Her presence was significant. The day before, Taylor’s son died.
And, she was here, helping her neighbors, sharing her strength, and offering a smile. Like always.
"My worth is loving people, doing the best I can to take care of them, helping them to survive while I survive and praying to God that we all survive,” Taylor says.