One engineer can make a difference when he’s Gaston Nash of Detroit.
By trade, engineers are problem solvers. When BMe Leader Gaston Nash visited his hometown on the west side of Detroit after a post-college career, he found trash piled on the street, abandoned houses and a neighborhood in disarray. To improve the Fitzgerald community, he decided he had to move back and facilitate a new culture.
The Michigan State University graduate bought two houses, and restored one to be his primary residence. Around the time he moved in, students from the University of Detroit Mercy conducted a survey on why the area was doing poorly, and local residents discussed how to make improvements. The solution, they decided, was to form a coalition called the College Core Block Club, which Nash led as president.
“I saw the trash piles and a neighborhood that was kind of falling apart,” Gaston said. “Creating the group was done out of almost necessity to try and get caring neighbors together, and improve the neighborhood. At the time I moved in, college students were doing their capstone projects for their Master’s [degree] in community development. After some meetings with me and another neighbor, we decided to form the block club.”
Focusing their attention on a one-square-mile radius between University of Detroit Mercy and Marygrove College, the group began restoring their district. They fostered three goals: find leadership in the neighborhood, create a culture of a clean and safe community, and establish a space for residents to gather.
With those objectives in mind, the College Core Block Club decided to restore Lollo Tot Lot playground, a half-acre lot with two swing sets and climbing structures, which served as Fitzgerald’s lone recreational site. When Nash was told the lot would be sold because the city couldn’t afford upgrades, the College Core Block Club adopted the park to ensure that did not happen.
“The park has always been taken care of by neighbors, other than recently, and the city ended up giving it the designation of closed park,” Gaston explained. “When the city closes a park, employees won’t cut the grass anymore and they won’t pick up trash. When we adopted the park, we came in every month, cut grass and picked up trash, and that’s where we started, but we wanted to dramatically change the park, so people felt like they saw a real difference in what the park is.”
College Core Block Club held its last meeting in November 2013, but Nash maintained his vision for change as treasurer of Fitzgerald Community Council. Nash has raised $70,000 to upgrade the lot including $10,000 he received as part of the BMe Leadership Award and a $15,000 Let’s Play Construction Grant from Dr. Pepper Snapple Group. He hopes to raise an additional $30,000 to build a community center, which he says will help to change the negative mentality.
“Most of the kids grow up here thinking they don’t have any opportunity, or that somebody isn’t giving them something that they deserve, when the opposite is true,” Nash said. “It’s important to change the perception because it’s important for black kids to buck the stereotypes, love and believe in themselves as people.”
Nash’s proposition is the reason we was given a BMe Leadership Award in 2013. BMe Community is committed to building caring and prosperous communities inspired by black men. Started by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, BMe is now an independent organization with backing from Knight, Open Society Foundations, and the Heinz Endowment. BMe operates year-round in Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Pittsburgh and is expanding nationally.
BMe Storyteller Zach Sparks is a writer for the Severna Park Voice, Pasadena Voice and Arundel Voice. He is a former freelance contributor for the Baltimore Sun newspaper.
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This article originally appeared on BMeCommunity.org under the title: One Engineer Can Make A Difference When He’s Gaston Nash