FLINT, Michigan — Jerin Sage isn’t a new face to the Flint community. He has contributed to Flint’s grassroots operations for over fifteen years through “community engagement, redevelopment, revitalization and beautification projects.” His accolades also extend to the insanely popular festival, Flint Drop Fest.
Inside his new office, overlooking part of downtown Flint inside The Ferris Wheel, Sage is settling into his new role, aside from being a father to three and a pending wedding to his fiance. Having grown up in Flint, Sage says he was a bit of a “wild child” growing up. At 18, he moved out of his parent’s house and began experiencing life’s complexities before getting an invite from a friend to travel the country and explore the Appalachian Trail.
Now years later, Sage has become Flint’s new Interim Director of Placemaking for the Greater Flint Arts Council, taking over from its previous director Kady Yellow
and assuming duties over the What’s Up Downtown
He recently sat down with Flintside to talk about being a natural connector, placemaking, and what he envisions for Flint under his leadership.
Sage discussing his background as well as the plans he has for Flint in his new role.Flintside: You’ve done a lot in Flint over the years, from creating Drop Fest to your Immersive Visual Art Network. Please give us a little background on the work you’ve done that’s led to you becoming the Interim Director of Placemaking.
“I have been active in music, art, and community grassroots organizing for a little over 15 years now. I’ve been doing a lot of that work out of my pocket, through fundraising or favors. I’m a people connector and bridging the gap between people. [So], it’s a natural thing when I see an opportunity, place, program, or someone comes to me, and they talk about an idea. Somebody else pops into my head, and I’m like, oh, you got to meet this person. So, I kind of naturally stepped into this role.”
Flintside: It’s been roughly a month since you accepted the position. How has the transition been so far?
“When I was offered the position that’s going to enable me to have much better resources and stronger partnerships, I was honored to step up to that spot. We’re going back through the numbers, impact reports, individual projects that we had. [We’re] looking at and seeing what happened over these last two years. We saw this boom and access to downtown. We saw rejuvenated energy about coming downtown and being creative.”
Flintside: Placemaking isn’t a new concept and has been active in Flint for a while. Can you share your definition of what placemaking is and does for those who don’t know?
“Placemaking is incorporating the people of a place into the development or redevelopment of programs of actual physical spaces. [It’s] empowering the people to be part of the development process of those changes. My main focus is to make sure that the community of Flint, Michigan, and surrounding areas has access to this program so that they feel and be involved in what happens next. I’m going to act as that connector between the residents and the resources that we have available for the arts, programming, and community engagement.”
Flintside: Under your leadership, what do you envision for Flint, and what is your focus while in this position?
“My main focus is going to make sure that I don’t put red tape around someone’s ideas or dreams. I want to be upfront with people that your dreams can come true, you can do it, and other people are going to back you up. Through [the What’s Up Downtown] program, people will have an opportunity to come to speak about Flint, to someone from Flint, that is passionate and caring about making this a better place for us to all work, live, and play.”
"I love creating positive memories for people to be able to share and talk about.” - Jerin Sage Flintside: You mention being a natural connector. How do you intend to connect with the people through the What’s Up Downtown program?
“We’re re-evaluating the whole program. We’re going to go through all the different processes of how it worked before. I’m going to reach out to everybody, and I’m going to get a questionnaire going. How was your experience? If you’ve never interacted with the What’s Up Downtown project before, what are the sort of things that would make you comfortable approaching me? Do you need to call me? Do you need to email me? What’s going to work for people to get involved. I don’t want to make promises that we can’t keep. I don’t want to tell people something that may or may not happen. I don’t want to get someone’s hopes up. And I don’t want to empower people with bad information or in the wrong direction.”
Flintside: According to the 2020 Census, Flint’s population is over 50% African-American, intermixed with Hispanic, Middle Eastern, and Asian people. How do you see networking and connecting in Flint, given the current political and social climate?
“I’ve always had people look at me differently, even within my white community. I look at the integrity of the person. Do you have respect for yourself and others around you? Are you passionate about what it is you’re talking to me about? I look at Flint as a multicultural, diverse city. We can try to put numbers on it all we want, but that does not concern me as much as people having equal opportunity to access the resources. I want people to know that I am a hundred percent in this for the programs, people, and city. I’m not here to play politics. I’m not here to play the race game. I want to sit down and explain that this is for you, and this is how we’re going to get over these barriers. [Also] let me take some of that off your shoulders so that you can focus on whatever it is that you’re doing through this project.”
Flintside: The first big project under you is Flint’s Flinter Fest—a collaboration between your office and five other businesses. What can we expect from this?
“The Flinter Fest is part of the Greater Flint Arts Council’s Parade of Festivals program. What you can expect from Flinter Fest is a diverse musical lineup of live music. You can expect a bar with good drinks for adults and kids’ activities. We’re going to have crafts, arts, games, and karaoke going on. It’s engaging, interactive, fun stuff. We’re going to have food from some amazing vendors. So we’ve got something for everybody.”
Flintside: Having traveled, raised a family, community-organized, and now becoming the interim director, what do you take away from your experiences thus far?
“My life experiences have shown me that anything that you’re truly passionate about, you can do that. When it comes down to it, everything that I’ve done doesn’t necessarily boil down to the name of the project that I did. It’s more about motivations for why I did that. I do almost everything that I do and have been doing to create a platform for those that might not be able to do it or have the resources that I do have. I love people, bringing people together, and I love creating stuff for them to do. I love creating positive memories for people to be able to share and talk about.”
To find out more about the What’s Up Downtown program, visit their website, check out the community calendar or send a message through FaceBook. For any questions, comments, or concerns, contact Jerin Sage via email at [email protected].
The Parade of Festival, What’s Up Downtown, and Sprout Worldwide present Family Game Night happening Jan. 30 from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m at The Ferris Wheel, 615 Saginaw St. in downtown Flint.
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