More than 35,000 kids of varied ages, races, grades and abilities played games and learned about college options at the 36th annual Metro Detroit Youth Day held today at Belle Isle on Detroit’s waterfront.
As always, founder Ed Deeb was there to cheer kids on and give them the confidence they need to carry them through the many months of homework and hassles until they become leaders themselves.
“Someone has to steer the kids in the right direction. The more cheerleaders we have the more we will become the country’s leading city.” -Ed Deeb, Director Metro Detroit Youth Foundation and Founder, Michigan Food and Beverage Association
“We’re hoping to inspire our kids, Detroit kids, to do well in school, do better at home, go to college, get a degree, come back to Michigan and become top- notch employees and leaders,” says Deeb, director of the 50-member board overseeing the Metro Detroit Youth Foundation and founder of the Michigan Food and Beverage Association (MFBA), one of the event’s main sponsors.
“Someone has to steer the kids in the right direction. The more cheerleaders we have the more we will become the country’s leading city. Our greatness will expand outward,” he says.
Deeb started Metro Detroit Youth Day following altercations between youth and Detroit merchants in the summer of 1980. Times had been tense when relations between Chaldean merchants and other business people and African American members of the community came to loggerheads about respect, pricing and hiring practices. A fight broke out on Livernois on Detroit’s northwest side. Two youth and a store owner were killed.
Then Mayor Coleman A. Young decided something must be done and retailers had to be more sensitive to cultural differences and become more capable of meshing diverse interests into a cohesive city.
Deeb’s organization, the Michigan Food and Beverage Association, New Detroit Inc., Police Athletic League and others, the community leaders including Mayor Young decided to host a fun day to bring people together. Deeb agreed to lead the effort and provide office space for meetings and office personnel at the association office in Warren. People stepped forward.
A board includes Sgt. Curtis Perry of the Detroit Police Cadets, Keith Bennett of Goodwill Industries, Barbara Jean Johnson of the Wayne County Commissioners office and Bruce Ross from the Michigan Recreation and Parks Association. A yeoman force ensures sport and media celebrities show up and the kids have plenty to do all day.
The efforts paid off.
More conversations and more cooperation were held between police, business and youth throughout the year.
In the summer of 1981 Deeb launched Metro Detroit Youth Day with the late Tom Fox of WJBK-TV and Jerry Blocker of WJR Radio to help show the kids the community cared about and respected them. About 1,100 participants showed up at Belle Isle hoping to foster good will and harmony.
That wasn’t good enough for Deeb. He pushed and pushed and today it is the largest youth event in Michigan, and one of the largest in the nation. Last year more than 34,000 kids between the ages of 8 and 15 attended along with more than 1,600 volunteers from more than 500 businesses and civic groups, who donated their time to supervise the sports clinics, games, contests, luncheon and various other event activities.
Each year the organization provides $35,000 in scholarships.
Metro Detroit Youth Day expanded in 1991 to include youth guidance, mentors, role models, anti-substance abuse activity, motivational speakers, entertainment, awarding of 80 or more scholarships yearly, and honoring outstanding students for academic excellence and community service.
Youth Day received countless honors and was awarded the Point of Light #477 from President George H. W. Bush.
On Youth Day kids can explore new interests at clinics that teach martial arts, golf, tennis, weight lifting, boxing, track and field, football and basketball. They can browse sports clinics, education stations, entertainment and workshops focused on anti-crime, anti-bullying, health and wellness and business start-ups.
In the past one environmentalist dressed up as a six-legged bug to tell kids about the emerald ash borer that destroys trees throughout the city.
Children entertain each other by singing and dancing their way to honors in the Youth Day idol contest. The Detroit Opera House Children’s Chorus gives a special performance and a jazz trio from Michigan State University performs.
Deeb says the best part of the event is college row. Tables inside tents are staffed by college recruiters who tell youth how to improve their grades and file the very best application for schools and financial aid. More than 120 scholarships will be given to outstanding students for academic excellence and community service. Each year the organization provides $35,000 in scholarships.
“This is how we grow community ambassadors,” he says.
Deeb casts a long shadow. He went to college at Michigan State University majoring in journalism and advertising, helped start the College of Communications Arts Alumni Association and endowed a conference room at the MSU. He was part of a committee that helped study the Detroit uprising to learn how to create peace and harmony.
Deeb also helped re-purpose Detroit’s Eastern Market with parades down Russell Street, loft living and cooking contests. Today it ranks among the top markets in the country for variety and attendance with Flower Day in topping the charts. He is currently working with the Project Green Light program to help retail shops and restaurants do a better job protecting themselves and customers from crime with 24/7 real time video monitoring.
While he has done tremendous work in Detroit, the project Deeb cherishes most is Youth Day.
“This is a catalyst for channeling children’s energy in a positive manner while emphasizing sportsmanship, education, fair play and leadership,” he says.
Those are all skills future leaders need.
The next Ed Deeb may very well be a kid playing hoops or putting on the green at Belle Isle this year waiting to take on a leadership role, and Deeb will have played a key role in preparing him or her for that job.