Rebecca “Bucky” Willis has a vision for Lindale Gardens, the neighborhood where she was born and her parents operated a mission out of their home, hosting Bible studies and feeding breakfast to children.
For Willis, it’s in her blood to love her neighbors – and her neighborhood. Together, they are building a community that shows its love for one another in a multitude of ways including murals, movie nights and more. A lifelong resident of the Lindale Gardens community on Detroit’s near east side, Willis has devoted her artistic vision to creating a home for herself, her neighbors and her city. That led to the establishment of Bleeding Heart Design, an enterprise whose mission is “to inspire altruism through art,” and that created a way to blend her passions.
“When I figured out that I wanted to do creative things in my career, like architecture, I had it in my mind that I was going to involve neighbors in creative processes,” says Willis.
A project manager at Detroit Collaborative Design Center, Bleeding Heart Design’s University of Detroit Mercy-housed fiduciary, Willis has spent much of 2015 developing visions to help enhance her neighborhood and inspire its residents. With the recent formation of Lindale Gardens Community Association (LGCA), her goal is to combine artistic murals commissioned through Bleeding Heart Design with group activities that revitalize the area of about 1,500 occupied homes.
“I’ve seen it go from bad to worse,” says Willis whose mother gave her the nickname “Love Bucket,” later abbreviated to “Bucky” by folks close to her.
Bordered by John R, Russell, East Seven and East Eight Mile Roads, Lindale Gardens has suffered considerable blight and neglect with the influx of drug activity and other crime. Willis’ prescription for the area’s growing number of abandoned structures was to create a corridor of vibrant murals along East State Fair. There are 10 murals on four buildings now, including the centerpiece, “Love and Forgiveness,” which features a father holding his son and a quote attributed to Greg Boyle, priest and founder of L.A.-based Homeboy Industries. The quote reads, “At some point we forgot that we all belong to each other.”
There’s also a mural with the theme, “Respect: Love it, live it, show it, give it,” and “We Need…” which includes written hopes and wishes of all kinds from the community. All of the murals are created by established local artists with input and hands-on contributions from Lindale Gardens residents.
“I feel like there are about 100 buildings we could paint,” says Willis, who also serves as the LGCA treasurer. “I don’t think we really have a number in mind. I think what we have in mind is building a neighborhood that has an identity and that people recognize as they’re driving through it.”
Further contributing to Lindale Gardens’ identity are movie nights, held every two weeks when an outdoor projector screens family-friendly films in a stage area near Keating Park. The small lot that became a summer gathering place near the corner of Keating and East State Fair had been neglected for several years after a tree fell onto the property. But residents cleaned it up, adding a patio, bench and table.
“Just opening that park has kind of brought the community together, and people are getting to know one another,” says Lisa Herring, LGCA president and an 18-year resident of the area. “Everyone has been so scared. They’ve been afraid to venture out, but we want to show them that we have some good people here. We actually have a lot in common with each other.”
Movie nights typically attract about 40 people, who enjoy popcorn and snacks, says Herring. Another regular event that draws support is the regular Saturday morning trash cleanup, which has included clearing sidewalks since school reopened for the neighborhoods students.
“Our sidewalk is like our vein,” says Herring. “If our vein is cut off, how can we stay connected?”
LGCA secretary Pamela McGhee lives in the neighborhood with her husband and daughter Rondaeya. Rondaeya helps McGhee regularly update the community chalkboard located at Yacama and State Fair, informing residents about scheduled events. McGhee recalls the first message Bucky wrote on the board about three years ago, rallying the neighbors to begin strategizing about some of the positives that are happening today.
“Pretty much everybody was on point and wanted to do what they could to improve the neighborhood,” McGhee recalls.
She envisions a GED program and other resources for the community in the near future. Just this summer, McGhee and LGCA members welcomed the arrival of The Promised Land Church at 1000 East State Fair, and they have helped open a soup kitchen there, serving meals to an average of 20 people Wednesday through Friday evenings.
“It’s been just a tremendous outpouring of friendship,” says pastor Melvin L. Williams, who praises McGhee and others. “From the drug addict to the prostitute, to the person that needs a place to stay, they’re constantly showing love.”
Photos by Paul Engstrom