Eastside Franklin Park

Eastside Franklin Park is full of grit and residents striving to find solutions, build community

FLINT, Michigan -- This summer, Flintside On The Ground had the privilege of covering Eastside Franklin Park. The weekly coverage was centered around the people in the neighborhood and the unique ways they make ESFP a better place. This summer was filled with stories of residents constantly finding solutions to problems and showing a grit that can only be found in a place like Flint.

Although the Eastside of Flint, specifically ESFP, has undergone massive changes, many residents stay because ESFP is their home. Vanilla Amaya and Billy Evaristo, sisters living in ESFP for the last 25 years feel pride and true joy aside from the major changes in the area.

“I feel this is home,” Amaya said. “This is my place. My street is still good and our little section in the neighborhood is still good.” 

The neighborhood of Eastside Franklin Park is heavily impacted by blight and with that are overwhelming implications on how residents are affected by the abandoned and arsoned homes. According to the Urban Blight and Pubic Health report, living next to blighted homes and vacant lots can lead to lower literacy, higher rates of chronic illness, breakdown of social networks, and strain social cohesion. 

Edna Sabucco, the neighborhood association’s current leader, has worked hard with her neighbors in an effort to make ESFP more beautiful and fight the blight that plagues the eastside of Flint. Sabucco, a resident of the neighborhood for 45 years, leads neighborhood clean-ups and was able to obtain grants from the Community Foundation of Greater Flint and Ruth Mott Foundation to create a neighborhood park with a pavilion and a community garden as a hub and gathering space for ESFP residents. 

The Genesee County Lank Bank has also been working with local neighborhood associations, like ESFP neighborhood association, to remove blight, in part, from a grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. According to a press release from the Lank Bank, based on more than 400 survey responses, residents asked the blighted houses that be prioritized are homes that are: directly next door to occupied properties, in areas where more people live, where homes are occupied, near open schools, and fire damaged. The Lank Bank was able to prioritize 37 dangerous vacant homes and two of these were in Eastside Franklin Park.

“We were able to present at neighborhood association meetings online and things like that to answer questions and encourage people to participate in the survey,” said Christina Kelly, the Director of Planning and Neighborhood Revitalization for the Landbank.

The eastside of Flint has battled with severe arson and dumping. “We always appreciate residents updating information in the property portal because then we can use that,” said Kelly. Residents and local businesses in ESFP can report blight and work with the Land Bank to end the blight.

The eastside is also known for business staples in Flint with a heritage that reflects integrity and a strong relationship with the surrounding community. Luigi’s restaurant remains a favorite for Flint residents and expatriates on return trips to the city. Tom Beaubien, co-owner of Luigi’s, showed strong emotion when talking about the relationship between the restaurant and its patrons, “I’m getting teared up thinking about it. It was a hard, hard, hard year,” said Beaubien. “You know, people’s spending and buying habits are habitual. If they don’t come here and get food, they’ll have to get it somewhere else or do something different. Plus, there are people around this restaurant. Just go like draw a circle for five miles, that’s a lot of people. I want to be here for them. I want them to rely on me. I know my business partner feels the same way. We want to be here for them.”

Vern’s Collision and Glass is another staple business in ESFP, ran by Mike Herriman and his family. Vern’s Collision has been serving ESFP since 1971 and has developed a trusted and beloved reputation in the community. “The neighborhood has just always been great to us,” Herriman said. “I've had people call my cell phone at nine o’clock at night and say, ‘Hey, your front gates are unlocked.’ They've watched out for us. So we've always looked at whoever comes through that door with whatever concern that they've got, what can we do to help with whatever the situation is to create a better outcome. 

“And whatever they’ve brought to us, whether it's repairing a car, or clearing up a street ... We just never know what's going to come through the door. So we look at it as what can we do to help, to create a better outcome for whatever situation they're bringing to us.”

Alongside the devoted and passionate residents and business owners of Eastside Franklin Park are also local institutions and organizations that work with the community to make sure that all residents are cared for and supported. The Latinx Center has provided a sense of ‘home’ to many Latinx residents on the eastside. The Latinx center has provided language services, immigration help, and hosted cultural events that truly bring the community together. This summer the Latinx center celebrated 20 years of its service and time in Flint. 

Religious-based organizations have also been essential to the residents of Eastside Franklin Park. Asbury Church has become an incredible center that facilitates; Asbury Farm, Sizzling Culture, and Asbury food pantry. Rev. Tom McDoniel is passionate about the work the church staff is doing to ensure their main goals remain intact: inclusivity and empowerment of residents. Rev. McDoniel understands the long game that is required to make substantial change, “Community development, it takes decades. It’s not an overnight process,” McDoniel said. “If in five or 10 years, when I come around this neighborhood, and the community has become a Spanish-speaking community and it all happened because we were successful at being hospitable for people coming here from other countries, I would consider that to be the greatest blessing I've ever had in my life.” 

Kevin Croom, the director of operations at Asbury Church, started his work with the community during the Flint water crisis. His work continues now with teaching his culinary skills to students in Asbury Church’s youth-led program, Sizzling Culture. Some people in the community refer to him as the ‘water man’ or the ‘food man.’ What he is definitely known for the most is his love for people, “I’m a worker,” said Croom. “I just love to see people happy, it just takes a little to make people happy.”

Coverage of Eastside Franklin Park this summer ended with all these amazing people coming together for the local craft fair held at the community park. The fair was a reminder and beautiful visual of the importance of community and how essential it is for residents to have a place to gather and celebrate life together. 

Whether it is a newer business, like Maude’s Alabama BBQ, or an older familiar one like Vern’s, the eastside continues to find ways to support each other and find solutions to fight the narrative that it is a forgotten place in Flint. Residents find joy in the simple things in life that truly matter. Residents like Edna Sabucco truly love their neighborhood and seek to make it better daily. “To me, the community is extremely important,” said Sabucco. “We do have a tight-knit community over here.”

Read more articles by Jenifer Veloso.