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July 30, 2004 - Image 23

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-07-30

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Named 2004 Community Devel-
opment Advocate of the Year by the
Community Economic Development
Association of Michigan, Tobocman,
35, pushed the landmark consumer pro-
tection legislation signed by Gov.
Jennifer Granholm that protects immi-
grants from fraud and abuse.
"We [the Jewish people] have a tradi-
tion even within our own community
of providing and caring for those who
are most needy," says Tobocman, who
notes that of the 16 members of the
State Legislature from Detroit, two are
white; and both of them are Jewish. The
other is Sen. Burton Leland.
An important issue to keep in mind
about the city, Tobocman adds, is that
Detroiters need resources to care and
maintain a city that originally had 2
million people and now has about
Political activist and business owner
Jackie Victor, 39, is from a similar
Jewish tradition. She lives in a stately
Victorian house around the corner from
WSU with her partner, Ann Perrault,
and their 3-year-old daughter, Rafaella
Perrault Victor. The women started
Avalon International Breads seven years
ago a few blocks from their house to
participate in revitalizing the city.
Now a catalyst for other businesses —
four have grown up on their streets —
Avalon has become a center for the
community. Their last birthday street-
party attracted more than 1,000 guests.
Their breads and baked goods also have
been voted No. 1 in the Detroit Free Press
and the Metro Times.
"We never envisioned the spirit of our
customers or of our employees when we
started here or the impact we'd have on
the surrounding community" Victor
says. "We often hear from customers
who say this place gives them hope for
the city."

Top: Amy Israel helped
bring art to her
neighborhood, like
the Big Fish sculpture
by Vito Valdez.
Above: Randall Fogelman
savors the 2004 Taste Fest.
Right: Jackie Victor, Ann
Perrault and daughter
Rafaella in their garden.

Inspiring Hope

Frustrated by negative attitudes toward Detroit,
Elaine Driker, who has lived in Detroit for 35 years
and is married to Eugene Driker, a member of the
WSU governing board, has waited a long time for
the enthusiasm and talent of young people like these
to return to Detroit.
"I'm learning that there's hope for the
city from Randall and Jackie," Driker says.
She is the founding director of WSU's
Detroit Orientation Institute that intro-
duces business executives, government offi-
cials and other professionals to the city.
Fogelman worked for her there.
Driker remembers when she and her husband first
moved to Detroit — her father thought they were
crazy — and they held a meeting at their home to
elect a young Carl Levin, now Michigan's senior U.S.
senator, to his first political position on Detroit's City

Driker's story, says Fogelman, reflects his high
hopes for Tobocman, who had his first campaign
meeting at Fogelman's loft.
But the political scene in Detroit is not always so
rosy. With the controversies surrounding Detroit's
Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and issues of race
that won't go away, it was surprising to find
a Jew in the mayor's office who see the
mayor's reign as promising.
Director of the mayor's office of neigh-
borhood commercial revitalization, Alan
Levy, 43, says the mayor has put better management
practices and financial systems in place.
"He's created a better environment for people to do
business," says Levy, who has worked in New York
City, Los Angeles and Minneapolis. "But I like
Detroit because I feel I can make a difference here,

Coy ER

[which is] necessary after decades of dis-
In 2003, Levy's office helped five
neighborhood commercial districts pull
down vacancy rates by gaining new
businesses and attracting $4 million
worth of investments, he says. What
surprised him most was the 6,100 vol-
unteer hours contributed by the resi-
"It's one of the best things about
Detroit, this sense that you can make a
difference," he says.
Mitch Alexander, 37, who grew up in
New Jersey, echoes Levy's feelings.
"It's not a Chicago or a New York,
but there's something unique here," he
says. "It's where people see something
special going on that can't be accom-
plished in other parts of the country."
Program officer'for the nonprofit
Local Initiatives Support Corporation
(LISC) in Detroit, Alexander focuses on
stabilizing or improving neighborhoods.
When no one else is willing to invest
in these communities, he says, his group
steps in with everything from loans to
planning and designs, to training com-
munity organizations on how to assist.
Crain's Detroit Business magazine recently
featured LISC, which assisted 25
Detroit nonprofits from 2001 until now
to raise $285 million for projects around
the city.
A most promising sign, Alexander
adds, is the growing number of young
professionals heading to Detroit and
making a commitment to this city. "It
shows hope and energy is here," he says.
Yet he was surprised, while shopping
around for a synagogue to join in the
suburbs. how little his peers knew of
what was happening in the city.
Amy Israel, 27, who's from the
Detroit suburbs, didn't intend to move
to Detroit. But, she says, she fell in love
with southwest Detroit — where
Tobocman and Alexander live — while
doing field placement for her master's in
social work at the University of Michigan in Ann
Arbor. So impressed by the neighborhood's Bagley
Housing Association, she asked for a job, which
turned into a full-time position as community plan-
ner and organizer. Eventually, Israel started' a neigh-
borhood association and wrote and implemented a
grant to provide art in the neighborhood — four
sculptures by an artist in residence.
"I like the small-town feel in a big city," she says.
A member of Congregation Shir Tikvah in Troy,
Israel is torn between her life in Detroit and her
Jewish life. "I'm always trying to find ways to con-
nect them," she says. "It's hard."
But, she concludes, "I see so many benefits living
in the city with so many different people. You get to
create an ideal space here — and that's what all of us
are working toward." LI

ROCKIN' THE D on page 24



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