Since the beginning of American history, each generation has grappled with questions about the significance of communities of color, and in particular, African American communities. What are the characteristics of such communities, how and why are they so different? I would propose a different question: What if communities of color are not that different after all? Love of God and country, strong familial ties, deep convictions and a profound sense of service all seem like ties that bind, instead of divide.
Consider the journey of a 17-year-old young African American man who left the only home he knew in Tupelo, Mississippi to head north in search of work. His path was similar to that of the millions who traveled to America from foreign lands in search of a better life, differing only in its domestic nature.
Jesse S. Powell would become part of the “Great Migration” from the rural southern states to the more industrialized northern ones, a long migration which began in 1915 and didn’t end until 1960. Jesse’s story of arriving in Michigan as a homeless teenager and being embraced with love and support from extended family would ultimately lead to a long legacy of service: as a member of the U.S. Navy, as a respected master brick mason, as an entrepreneur (owner of Telstar Construction) and, for 33 years, as president of the Clinton Township Housing Commission.
Jesse was a member of the Quinn Road Community for nearly 60 years. He and his wife, Vivian, played an integral part in developing what so many, families and historians alike, have referred to as The Unique Square Mile. This special place within Clinton Township is nestled between 14 and 15 Mile roads and Harper and Gratiot avenues. It’s a place where your parents put down roots, the children married and moved down the street, your uncle lives up the hill and your cousin is right next door! Perhaps this is starting to sound like the community you were raised in too.
While The Unique Square Mile may not describe every community, most could recall or repeat a parallel story of migration, of family and of service, in their own words. My hope is that you will do just that! Share your own story of community, its uniqueness and its heroes. I believe that where you find great people like Jesse Powell, you will find that a Unique Square Mile has sprung up around them!
Rhonda Powell is the daughter-in-law of Jesse Powell. The narrative “The Unique Square Mile,” was written by his oldest daughter, Lynette. Rhonda is director of the Macomb County Community Services Agency and a member of OneMacomb, a diversity initiative started by Macomb County Executive Mark A. Hackel. The group promotes multiculturalism and inclusion efforts in Macomb County. OneMacomb’s mission is to facilitate and support collaborative and community-based activities which celebrate cultural diversity and inclusion in Macomb County. Visit diversity.macombgov.org for more information.