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Detroit Teacher Takes Kids To Historic Black Landmark in Idlewild, Michigan, To Help Give It A Little Makeover

Detroit Teacher Takes Kids To Historic Black Landmark in Idlewild, Michigan, To Help Give It A Little Makeover

They're giving back to the community!

A Detroit teacher took some kids to historic Idlewild to help give it a little makeover, WXYZ Detroit reports. 

Maria Lawton Adams is a teacher in Detroit, Michigan, who not long ago had transformed the Tindal Recreation Center on Detroit's West Side to create a haven for youth and seniors. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Tindal was forced to shut its doors, and Lawton Adams had to find a creative way to connect with the youth. 

Last summer, she ended up traveling to Idlewild, Michigan, for a tour. The small city boasts about 2,700 acres of lakes and wilderness, founded in 1912 by four white couples. During the early 1920s and 1930s, Idlewild became a resort area for Black families, hosting celebrities and superstars who couldn't perform in the major city. Artists like Della Reese, Dizzy Gillespie, The Four Tops, and Aretha Franklin all traveled to Idlewild where they would hang out and perform during the summer. 

"All these great musicians and actresses and actors found a place 2 ½ to 3 hours away from Detroit where they could perform at the Paradise Club or the Flamingo Club," Lawton Adams explained to reporters.  

That's what she was expecting when she visited for the tour, some semblance of the heyday of Idlewild. During that time more than 25,000 Black people would converge during the 50s and 60s from places like Chicago, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Detroit. Instead, she was met with a tattered, run-down shell of the former booming town. 

"I started looking at the devastation. As I was riding, I was just silent [because] I was like, 'oh my God.' I said all the good things that you heard about and the rich history, and it looks nothing like it. I thought of it like being Beirut; a lot of the houses were about to fall down," Lawton Adams said. 

She started inquiring among locals about how she could help, being pointed in the direction of a man named Rambo, a long-time Idlewild resident. He has lived for years without heat, water, or electricity. That's when Lawton Adams realized a makeover in Idlewild would be the perfect summer employment project for her youth program. 

"I said to myself, 'I wonder if I talk to the powers that be if the kids could spend their summer up here as opposed to staying in Detroit doing a project...' We clean up the brush, and we paint the houses, put boards on them, so people coming into the town [who] just want to see what Idlewild is, it [won't] look so bad from the street," Lawton-Adams recalled. 

Photo Credit: Christine Byron

Eventually, she was able to get support from The Department of Natural Resources, who provided supplies, and Dave, her facilities manager at Tindal, to transport 25 kids up to Idlewild for the summer. Because of COVID, they brought the kids in shifts, but all in all, all 25 youth were able to spend the entire summer in the town, learning home-building skills, giving back to the community, and immersing themselves in history they fixed up Rambo's house. 

"We found out it's a three-unit house, so we took the smallest unit, and we completely tore it out. They put up new drywall, a kitchen, bathroom, even landscaping outside, and when they're finished, he will get everything down to silverware brand new in his new apartment," Lawton Adams said. 

They've had to slow down with kids returning to college, but they're still traveling to Idlewild on the weekends. The goal is to finish Rambo's house, and maybe the group will be able to take on more projects in the future. 

Thank you for your service, Maria! Because of you, we can!

Photo Courtesy of WXYZ Detroit