In the mist of challenges and adversities, there are individuals who stand tall, inspiring us with their unwavering commitment to making the world a better place. One such remarkable individual is Shamayim Harris, affectionately known as “Mama Shu.” She has been named one of CNN’s Top 10 Heroes and is now vying for the prestigious title of 2023 CNN Hero of the Year. But Mama Shu’s journey is more than just an accolade; it’s a story of resilience, community, and transformation.
Mama Shu’s story begins in Highland Park, a community nestled within Detroit’s city limits. It’s a place that has seen its fair share of hardships, where properties lay abandoned, and streetlights dimmed. However, Mama Shu was determined to turn the tide and bring beauty back to her city, a transformation she describes as changing “blight to beauty.”
Her journey began with unimaginable tragedy when, in 2007, her 2-year-old son, Jakobi, lost his life in a hit-and-run accident. Grief-stricken but resolute, Mama Shu took action. She purchased 45 vacant lots of land and embarked on a mission to create the Avalon Village, a sustainable eco-village aimed at providing resources, youth programming, gardens, small business support, and more to its residents.
But the challenges did not end there. In 2021, Mama Shu’s 23-year-old son, Chinyelu Humphrey, was shot and killed in front of their home. Despite her eyewitness account, no arrests have been made in connection with the murder. Her bonus son was also murdered in 2015. In the face of such adversity, Mama Shu continued her mission, determined to honor her vision and the memories of her sons.
“I needed to just basically change grief into glory, pain into power. I just tried to transform it and make it into something bearable and something beautiful,” Mama Shu told CNN.
Avalon Village, which emerged from her vision, is not just a revitalized neighborhood but a symbol of transformation. It includes the Homework House, a safe haven for children to complete their schoolwork after hours, a marketplace for women entrepreneurs, a basketball court, and a community garden. This remarkable initiative has already made a substantial impact, growing from about four lots to an impressive 45. Mama Shu’s dream extends further, encompassing plans for a café, greenhouse, restaurant, laundromat, and market-rate housing, breathing new life into her community.
“All throughout this process three of my sons got killed,” said Mama Shu. “I had to maneuver through all of that and stay focused and just really get some stuff done. We have a beautiful basketball court in their honor. It’s called My Three Sons Basketball Court that I got with a Generator Z grant to build for the children. Its really nice.”
Mama Shu’s dedication and unwavering spirit have not gone unnoticed. She was named one of this year’s Top 10 CNN Heroes, a recognition that comes with a $10,000 prize. However, the journey doesn’t end here; she is now in the running for the 2023 CNN Hero of the Year award, with the chance to secure an additional $100,000 for her community.
Mama Shu shared her elation at being named one of the top honorees, emphasizing the exposure as an opportunity for people worldwide to witness the potential for neighborhood revival, even in the face of disrepair. She hopes that her story will inspire others to undertake grassroots initiatives aimed at enhancing their communities.
The $10,000 grant will contribute to expanding the activities at the Homework House. However, the coveted $100,000 award would provide the nonprofit with the means to create an activities area, complete with a new playground, tennis court, and fencing for a basketball court. For Mama Shu, this would be akin to “hitting the lottery” and a significant step toward fulfilling her vision for her community.
Now, it’s time for the world to stand with Mama Shu and support her incredible mission. Voting for the 2023 CNN Hero of the Year is open through December 5, and you can cast your vote up to 10 times a day. It’s a chance for all of us to contribute to a story of transformation, resilience, and hope.
“It’s a beautiful opportunity to be among the other heroes. It’s 10 of us. To be chosen worldwide, is a really big deal,” Mama Shu said. “I can’t wait to go to New York and meet all the other heroes and I’m hoping that my name is announced when they say who is hero of the year.”
Mama Shu’s journey is a testament to the indomitable spirit of the human heart, a story of transforming personal tragedy into triumph for an entire community. Her efforts are a beacon of hope for Highland Park, Detroit, and the world. As CNN’s Anderson Cooper will announce the CNN Hero of the Year on December 10, let us come together to make sure Mama Shu’s story reaches the hearts of millions.