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Detroit blacks own a piece of the AMERICAN DREAM.

By Kristin HelmoreStaff writer of the Christian Science Monitor / July 7, 1986


THE American Dream is alive and well and living in Detroit. Moreover, for at least 60 percent of Detroiters, the American Dream is black. Many white Americans, who have been fed doses of Detroit's negative media image over the last two decades, would be surprised by what they find here. They've heard about race riots in the '60s, followed by white flight to the suburbs; industry layoffs and unemployment; high homicide rates; and the decay of the downtown commercial district in favor of suburban shopping malls. The image they have of Detroit's black community is likely to be squalid, violent, and economically depressed.

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It is true that the commercial streets that serve the residential neighborhoods abound with evidence of urban blight: Many businesses are boarded up, litter is plentiful, and those stores that are open are often barricaded against crime with metal gates and bulletproof windows.

The crisis in the auto industry during the 1970s took its toll when many jobs -- and many homes -- were lost. Even Denise Glover, who has worked for the city in various capacities and is one of its staunchest supporters, will concede that.

``Many people went through hard times,'' says Ms. Glover, a third-generation Detroiter whose grandparents were among the first small group of blacks to move into an all-white residential neighborhood in northwest Detroit in the 1930s. ``There were people who were displaced as a result of what happened with the automobile situation. There were homes that were lost. It would not be fair to say that we survived it whole. There are still people who have not been called back, who will never be called back.''

But it's on the streets where people live -- and there are miles and miles of such streets here, today almost exclusively black -- that one finds the American Dream.

Stroll down almost any residential street on a summer evening. Sprinklers are ticking over prizewinning lawns. Men are washing their cars or clipping their hedges. Women are tending rosebushes or chatting with their neighbors. Big trees dapple the sidewalks with leafy pools of shade, and kids whiz by on their bikes. Occasionally a teen-ager's motorcycle will roar through the quiet, but otherwise the loudest sounds are children's voices and the ice-cream man's bell.

The sense of peace, order, and contentment with the quiet rhythms of home life is palpable. The squalor and tension of the commercial streets -- though actually quite near -- seem a million miles away.

Unlike many large cities, Detroit consists mostly of single-family houses inside the city limits, built mainly from the 1920s through the 1950s for white employees of the auto industry. Many of these homes are modest, some are more like mansions. Most are made of brick to ward off the harsh Detroit winters. (The prices they sell for seem impossibly low to anyone used to the inflated real estate values of other cities. One attractive one-bedroom house on a double corner lot recently sold for $33,000.) The majority of these homes are in excellent condition, immaculately cared for by their owners.

Take Aquilla Bell. Anyone strolling by her house on a recent evening would findher wielding a trowel on the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street. Near her are two buckets: one of fertilizer, one of grass seed. It is hard to imagine how the thick, juicy, evenly-trimmed grass could possibly be improved, but Mrs. Bell is quick to point out a few barely discernable pale spots in the green.