Tammy Black, president, project leader and grant writer of Manistique Community Treehouse Center.
Photo courtesy of Tammy Black.
On Detroit’s eastside Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood, a community group led by resident Tammy Black is constructing an environmentally friendly and therapeutic community education center and event space on Manistique Street.
Named the Manistique Community Treehouse Center, the ongoing 400 square-foot elevated “treehouse” project began in 2015 as a grassroots nonprofit. The envisioned ADA wheelchair accessible center is a partner of the Detroit Land Bank Authority and was part of the strategic plan for the city of Detroit.
Black founded her philosophy for inclusive space making from her experience being a mom advocate of children with learning disabilities who are “skilled and brilliant people, but they have a label on them because it’s a different way of teaching them right.”
An “advocate watcher” of Pete Nelson’s Treehouse Masters work in the 1980s and early 90s, Black’s premise for creating more spaces and active community engagement is at the core of the Manistique Community Treehouse Center complex.
“I always wanted to do a treehouse,” said Black. “So I said, here’s these beautiful lots across from me that are blighted. Wouldn’t these two beautiful trees be a perfect place for a treehouse? We can implement solar power because I’ve always been interested in solar power, clean energy, clean water and those types of things.
Let’s put some programming in here that will be programming for creativity, building confidence, collaboration skills, mental health because mental health is a big part of how people feel about themselves and how they feel about other. So, how can we help with that?”
The center regularly services 75-80 youth and adult residents, providing financial literacy classes for youth and elders, solar energy education, youth home repair workshops, birdwatchers garden learning hub, and the Creative Empowerment Garden that will host an outdoor solar movie theater, greenhouse, and energy Power Station.
Similar to other construction projects during the pandemic, the Center experienced financial challenges due to lumber pricing, union contracts, and oil prices. These issues set the project back into fundraising mode as the projected $300,000 budget more than tripled to $700,000.
During Covid, the project supplies 5,000 fresh food boxes from their own garden to local families and partnered with USAID to supply food to communities in Hollandale, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee.
In 2018, the treehouse proposal was one of 18 Detroit neighborhood projects to receive the Kresge Foundation Award for a portion of $1.5million in grants. The project has also garnered support from the Detroit Regional Chamber, Charles H. Wright Museum for African American History, and General Motors NeighborHUB program.
“I think it’ll be a really nice destination for a lot of people in the community,” said Councilperson Latisha Johnson (D4) about the project in her district. She has visited the project site and met with Black to discuss the prospects of reinvigorating community spaces.
“There’s a lot of focus in the Jefferson Chalmers community in making sure we provide the necessary support to current residents in the existing community in a way that we can rehab to rebuild that area.”
The center is powered by solar panels that also span a notable 25 rooftops of surrounding homes and commercial properties, fueled by a local charging station run by Black’s solar power company, Community’s Power. The organization is the only one in Michigan part of the ASES National Solar Tour.
Black said the building of treehouse is expected to break ground later this fall with projections to be completed in December. The project is currently fundraising for $440,000 to help with the gap in expenses and is looking to local community foundations for investment and encourage residents to volunteer every Saturday.
She hopes the impact and spirit of the initiative reaches future generations and in cities across the country.
“I’m trying to leave a legacy and not just for myself but for the city,” said Black. “When I pass away, it’ll feel run on, it’ll feel like it continues to happen.”
To follow the developments on the Manistique Community Treehouse Center, visit their website at manistiquetreehouse.org.