Hours before the start of Black History Month, New Era Detriot went viral. The nonprofit’s initiative,’ The Streets Is Watching,’ received praise when the video showed Black male volunteers ensuring the safety of Black women by escorting them after dark. That includes leaving work, loading groceries, and even pumping gas.
On The Shade Room‘s Instagram account alone, the video pulled in over 6.4 million views and more than 500,000 likes.
Though this might’ve been a first impression of the organization for many people, its co-founder and president Zeek Williams says New Era is a household name in Detroit.
“It took eight years for the world to kinda see some of the things we’re doing out in our community,” Williams told TSR in a video interview on Friday (Jan. 10).
And they’re making their own history by unapologetically serving Black people in Detroit since August 2014 on a daily. Not just the ‘typical giving seasons.’ Their programming involves bringing the resources to the doorsteps of Black people on a consistent basis, including but not limited to city council updates, representative information, year-round entertainment for kids, resources for food access, and utility coverage.
That specific program, called Hood to Hood, runs all year, particularly in the summertime when improvised communities and children are most in need of resources.
“We’re unapologetic about [serving the Black community,]” Zeek said. “If it’s one house on the block on fire, why would I take a fire hose and water everybody else house?”
New Era wants this form of living and community-building to be a lifestyle, not a reflection of charity, punishment, or seasonal giving.
“Our goal is always to be an accoutabiltiy organization. I feel like in our community, in Black communties we get so comfortable with the cliches like okay we gon’ do something for the community come Thanksgiving. We gon’ give back turkeys. When the kids go back to school, we gon do backpacks. Christmas we give out toys.
We sum up our community work and our community involvement with a handful of events a year. It’s just like our community needs so much more when you talk about attention, structure, organization and things of that nature. For us, we wanna be able to make doing for your people, doing for your community kind of a lifestyle and get people to understand we not just waiting for traditions or holidays to do for our people.”
Co-founder and executive director Kierra Williams and Zeek echo each other in their passionate spills about the nonprofit. She speaks eloquently about the organization’s core–doing SOMETHING to make the world of Black children and communities better.
“Our organization is centered around accountability, self-accountability, household accountability, community accountability, economic, and financial accountability. Those are just five of our principles, but it’s really about a lifestyle.”
“One thing that brother Malcolm X said that really spoke to me is, ‘we’re not outnumbered, we’re unorganized.’ So that’s about accountability as well. Holding ourselves accountable and realziing that we as a people, we have the power to take back our communities. We don’t have to wait for a politicial figure to do so, we don’t have to wait for our chruch to step up and do so. These are things we can do on our own if we feel like we’re accountable to do so. These are obligations that we should have to our communties and to our children.”
Then, there’s the element of public safety–an issue Zeek says plagues the Black community but is often overlooked.
“We got so many different aspects of community growth, and I feel that one of the things that’s always swept up under the rug is safety. Public safety is a real issue in the Black communities, and it has been for quite some time.”
Their ‘Streets Is Watching’ initiative from the viral video has been around since the organization started. New Era Detroit recently started servicing the majority female-led staff at Little Scholars Development Center.
The staff typically closes up in the evening hours. They offer care and education for kids between infancy and four while also providing performing arts after-school for ages 5-13.
In December, 19-year-old Bradley Thurman shot and robbed 53-year-old wife and mother Tracie Golden at a party store in December. The incident happened just a few minutes from Little Scholars.
After that, employees from the development center contacted New Era Detroit. The organization dedicated members to ensuring the staff and its children leave the center safely and without the fear of being harmed.
“We had a great response with [New Era Detroit]. They came in, they were very professional,” Debbie Taylor, Little Scholars admin assistant said. “They made us feel comfortable, they introduced themselves. And from day one that they came in, they was on the job. They made sure they asked us what time were we leaving and we were like when are you gonna start and he said we’re starting now because…you guys need some protection. Tehy started teh job right away so that made me feel so secure, so safe. That made us feel that we have someone that is looking out for us in the community.”
Human Resources Director Jarrite Jackson said New Era Detroit members asked surrounding businesses, including a gas station and liquor store, about outside cameras to ensure “extra protection.”
But New Era isn’t about toting weapons or encouraging violence but protecting innocent people–the vulnerable–women, children, and the elderly.
“We work on de-escalation, conflict resolution, and community-engagement. That is what is in the forefront of how we even police our own communities–making sure people understand we come with peace and love. It’s not about coming with force and saying we’re big and bad and we got firearms…but we out there to be protection for innocent people. Our goal is simple, just leave innocent people alone.”
New Era isn’t necessarily here to deal with violence, including gang violence. Their purpose is to protect people that out living their everyday life, like the employees at Little Scholars.
Videos of their public safety initiatives aside, New Era greatly depends on Black women. It’s a point Zeek made clear. Yes, it started as a male-only group, but Zeek says it lasted one week.
By the time they had their first official meeting, Black women were also present and ready to do the work, including co-founder Kierra.
Zeek says expanding its membership was “the best decision ever.” He credits Black women and their partnership and unity for New Era’s continued growth, including opening chapters in 18 additional cities.
“There’s no successful anything without the help of Black women, especially when you talk about Black movements,” Zeek said. He added, “The reason that we have been so successful and got so far is because of Black women.”
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