This past summer, family, friends, and admirers of the late Florrie Love Blackwell, former First Lady of Highland Park, Mich., presented a monetary gift to The Avalon Village in her name. Located on Avalon St. (between Woodward Ave. and Second Ave.) in Highland Park, The Avalon Village is the ongoing transformation of one of the city’s most blighted blocks into a safe, functional, beautiful, and culturally enriched space for the empowerment of children, seniors, and entire families. Shamayim “Mama Shu” Harris is The Avalon Village’s founder and CEO.
To honor their mother’s longtime dedication to helping underserved people, her adult children, Brenda Love Blackwell-Mims, June Blackwell-Hatcher, Arthur Blackwell, and Bobbi Blackwell, spearheaded a drive to raise funds to donate to The Avalon Village. Approximately $3,500 was gifted to the non-profit entity. A substantial amount of the monetary donation was from Metro Houston, Texas and several other cities across the country.
“We are here today to celebrate and make this donation in the memory of our mother, who was so committed to helping children and seniors,” said Blackwell-Mims, Florrie Love’s oldest daughter. “The Avalon Village is a wonderful place that’s doing amazing things in the community.”
“We are happy that our mother’s lifetime commitment to helping others matches Mama Shu’s lifetime commitment to do the same,” said Blackwell-Hatcher. “She would be so proud that a monetary donation has been made in her name so that The Avalon Village can continue to do the wonderful things to help this community grow and prosper.”
The monetary gift to The Avalon Village was in celebration of A Day for Love, established by Florrie Love’s family to coincide with her May 4 birthday. Since its inception in 2019, A Day for Love, officially recognized by the City of Highland Park, features a time of charitable giving and a fun event for children orchestrated by Florrie Love’s family and friends. Due to the pandemic, an event was not held this year. In 2019, an inaugural event was held at the Ernest T. Ford Field House in Highland Park, where more than 150 children played fun games, enjoyed food, and received books to read.
The Avalon Village is the brainchild of Mama Shu, who in 2007 created a safe zone for youth and adults in the community after her two-year-old son, Jakobi RA, was killed by a hit-and-run driver. In honor of her son, one of the blighted vacant lots on Avalon St. has been transformed into Jakobi RA Park. Mama Shu calls the park a beautiful and safe gathering place for celebrations, music, community service projects, and other activities for youth and seniors.
“We are much appreciative of the donation made to The Avalon Village in the name of Mrs. Florrie Love Blackwell,” said Mama Shu. “The donation helps fund our programs, such as our Music Camp, Hood Camp, and other initiatives that serve the community.”
While still in transformation, The Avalon Village is home to The Homework House, where kids do homework after school in a safe environment. The village is also home to the Goddess Marketplace, a shipping container converted into a place where women entrepreneurs network and sell their products. Future plans for The Avalon Village include constructing The Avalon Village Healing House, The Blue Moon Café, and The Avalon Village Community Greenhouse.
Mama Shu’s work to build an empowering community caught the attention of Ellen DeGeneres, host of the nationally televised program, The Ellen Show. When Mama Shue appeared on the program in 2016, DeGeneres arranged for a prefabricated house to be placed in The Avalon Village. The structure serves as the village’s headquarters.
There’s no doubt that Florrie Love would have loved the mission of The Avalon Village, especially as it relates to inspiring young people to learn.
Born in 1919, Florrie Love, the youngest of six siblings, grew up in Albany, Georgia,
where she developed a lifelong thirst for reading books and learning. After graduating from the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina, now North Carolina A&T University, Florrie Love attended Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C. She was the lone female in her class and amazingly earned her juris doctorate at 21 years old, becoming the youngest and one of the first females to graduate from Howard Law School.
At Howard, Florrie Love met her future husband, Robert “Bob” Blackwell, a U.S. Army officer stationed near Washington, D.C. The two married in 1945 and ultimately relocated to Highland Park. In 1968, Florrie Love became Highland Park’s First Lady of color after her husband was elected mayor. He was the city’s and state’s first “full-time” Black mayor. Florrie Love also established a successful career with the State of Michigan Department of Social Services. Armed with her law degree, she relentlessly helped underserved clients facing legal issues.
Florrie Love Blackwell died on April 25, 2018. Her husband, Mayor Bob, passed on December 16, 2008.