Sarvis Park

The matriarchs and collective unity of Sarvis Park

"I want people to claim their stake in the ground and call this home because when you call it home, you treat it a little differently." — Dr. Ladel Lewis, 2nd Ward Councilwoman & Sarvis Park Neighborhood Association Creator
FLINT, Michigan — The sounds of basketballs hitting the pavement, children playing on the playground, and long-time residents walking, watching, and laughing fill the air of Sarvis Park. It is a moment cherished by residents who have seen the park transform from a community landmark where “we’ve always been able to have connections to the right people” to a troubled area and back again. The traditions and beliefs modeled by Sarvis Park residents are akin to one of the seven Kwanzaa principals — Umoja or Unity. 

Umoja is present among the six African American women seated at a picnic table underneath a tree. They tell the tales of Sarvis Park and their lives — what it was then and is now — and it is a moment of appreciation and gratitude. Not every woman seated is from the neighborhood. However, they share a responsibility to keep Sarvis Park and the surrounding area beautiful and a place where any and everyone feels welcomed. These six women are 2nd Ward Councilwoman Dr. Ladel Lewis; Tonedia Threlkeld; Circuit Court Referee Mary Hood; First Lieutenant Yvonne Brantley of the Michigan State Police; the Park Mother Honey Williams; and Tyonna MacIntyre. Working together hand in hand, these women explain their reasons for working to change the traditional paradigms of Sarvis Park and what they hope to see.

"I see children who have gotten into trouble, and I firmly believe that some of that is because they don’t have places like this." - Circuit Court Referee Mary Hood
Dr. Ladel Lewis, who returned to Flint to take care of her ill father, is spearheading part of the operation of Sarvis Park. Noticing the “bullet shell casings,” “litter,” and conditions of Sarvis Park and the neighborhood, Lewis decided to take matters into her own hands. In the same year, she established the Sarvis Park Neighborhood Association as a way for residents to get communally engaged to “help build pride and reduce blight in the community” and to breathe new life into the park and neighborhood. As a result, residents are working on getting a second speed bump in the area, fixing streetlights, and ring video doorbells. Now, Sarvis Park is home to several events like community days and will host extensive programming over the Spring and Summer seasons.

“I always go back to the story, but coming home and taking care of my father, who was ill, I noticed that my community was ill,” Dr. Lewis says. “So instead of complaining, I decided to get in front of it and get the neighbors involved. [But] not just the neighbors, the community stakeholders, and that’s what we have around this table.”

Two neighborhood kids playing on the tire swing at Sarvis Park.
And what’s around the table are Black women — matriarchs and “mother figures” — who tend to not just the park but to each other and the community. Honey Williams, known affectionately as Sarvis Park’s “Park Mother,” knows that best. Every day she is at the park overseeing all the children who step within its borders to “make sure I find out their name, where they live, and their parents.” This includes parenting two teenage boys who are always playing basketball at Sarvis Park’s court and the pedicure business she operates from her house.

“First of all, you have to have the kid’s attention. They listen to me, but they are all characters. I get out every day and see all the kids. I love discipline, so I scare them a little bit,” Williams says with a laugh. “I have two teenage boys that play out here too. I want to know who they’re playing with and what’s going on.”

It’s something that longtime resident Tonedia Threlkeld understands and agrees with.

“I know, for me, [they know] Ms. Threlkeld’s not going to put with it. I mean for [them] to do right, and they see that love,” she explains to several head nods. “If you come around, I’m going to show you love, but I’m going to tell you if you are right or not. They know to keep moving if they not gone do the right thing.”

"These ladies here are those mother figures here in this area." - First Lieutenant Yvonne Brantley of the Michigan State Police
With Sarvis Park being an active neighborhood for children and teenagers, one must consider its relationship with law enforcement and the judicial system. Unfortunately, the last decade has seen a rise in the weaponization of legal systems again black and brown communities, most notably in the form of police brutality and rally cries for legal prosecution and convictions. Circuit Court Referee Mary Hood knows the stories of teenagers and young adults inside courtrooms. It’s why she’s joined forces with Dr. Lewis to “change the narrative and change what [youth] see in the community.”

“What I see [at Sarvis Park] takes me back to when I was a child. I see children who have gotten into trouble, and I firmly believe that some of that is because they don’t have places like this to come, play with other children and resolve their disputes,” Hood says, with everyone agreeing. “We played on the playground. We had bullies and people who protected [us] from the bullies. So we learned how to adapt and function in that environment.”

And protecting and serving is what First Lieutenant Yvonne Brantley of the Michigan State Police believes in wholeheartedly. The community and children know her, having “been involved with Sarvis Park for three years.” If residents have issues, they know to contact her. But it’s not just her. Sarvis Park also has a relationship with the Flint Police Department. However, for the First Lt., it’s about the relationships built.

“My grandmother very much influenced me. These ladies here are those mother figures in this area. It was easy for me because I’ve been gravitating [towards] that all my life. That’s how I treat the men and women who work for me. They, just like the community, need to know we care.”

Working together hand in hand, the traditional paradigms of Sarvis Park are changing for the better.

But it’s people like Tyonna MacIntyre, even on her days off from working at the Autozone right in front of Sarvis Park, who bring the spirit of unity alive. Autozone’s District Manager, Anson Banister, is a part of the community cleanup, allowing the entire store to give back and “be the change you want to see.”  

“It’s good to be able to have that network of people. I told Dr. Ladel can you please send [my district manager] the flyer, and he posted it,” MacIntyre says. “I get out here, and it feels good. Out of sight, out of mind, and if they see it, they’re gon’ add to it. So when we cleaned the fenced area last year, it stayed clean the whole year.”

And yet the story of Sarvis Park is far from done. The park's neighborhood association is gearing up for more cleanup days, community events, and making the area “a place where people are moving to and not away from.” It is, after all, the mission that Dr. Lewis holds dear and one that continues to propel her forward.

“I would like the north side — especially this neighborhood — for people to invest in buying home and not to rent out. I want people to claim their stake in the ground and call this home because when you call it home, you treat it a little differently. Instead of trying to go out to the suburb, make this your suburb. Give us that same energy and bring it here. That is our goal.”
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Read more articles by Xzavier Simon.