Jordan’s Story: It’s Important to Do Service Where I Live

Jordan Cook is a senior, at Osborn High School in Detroit, Michigan. He has completed 960 service learning hours and helped build a school in Nicaragua.  Here Jordan reflects on the importance of doing service in the community where he lives and addresses the stereotypes he has received for being a young Black man from Detroit :

I actually joined buildOn by accident. It was my freshman year, I was hungry and a good friend of mine told me they had pizza.  I was actually coming for the food and decided to stay because I liked the service we were doing. During my first service project, we went to The Earthworks Garden where we helped pull up crops and plant new ones. It was a new experience to be planting crops, but it also made me feel kind of strange because it wasn’t in my community. So then I was like, why are we doing service that’s not around our school?

I think it’s important to do service around where I live.  I’m in this neighborhood, so I see it every day-in and out of school and on the weekends, even during the summer. It feels good to see the work that you put in, to see the finished project of something and the impact it’s had.

My favorite service project in our community is at The Matrix Center, where we help pass out food to the locals in the neighborhood. The center is important to the area because they offer locals jobs, give out small balance checks to those who really need it, and help community members get the fruits and vegetables they need through their food distribution.  The Matrix Center is a safe space in the community. 

There’s a negative perception out there of Detroit and the people that live here.  I hear a lot of people that don’t know the Osborn community saying a lot of negative things about it and us. I hear all the time people saying it’s a bad school, that people fight too much, all sorts of stuff. They look at our area as the worst area in the state or even the country. There are definitely a lot of challenges, like sometimes it’s just hard to go outside because you always have to be conscious of your surroundings. You have to be aware of people because there’s a lot of gangs in this area, so it’s important to have street smarts. Sometimes that can be a bad feeling, that you can’t just be somewhere and know that you’re safe. It’s that feeling of like I need to get out of here, like something feels a little sketchy or a little suspicious. It’s a really concerning feeling, that any false move could put you or someone else’s life in danger. 

But at the same time, the perception of this area is not the whole truth, and that perception comes from a lot of bad stereotypes. Most people in this area, and even in this school, are really good people.  

With buildOn, we do service projects to fight this negative perception and fix some of the problems in the community. For example, we do board ups to lower the crime and gang violence. There are a lot of abandoned houses here in Detroit, and people use them as drug houses or the homeless use them to camp out and sleep in. It’s unsafe for the community, especially for kids who have to walk to school and try to avoid particular streets full of abandoned homes because a lot of incidents go on around this particular street.

So we go to these streets and board up the abandoned homes so that they can’t be used for crime —that’s a real service to our community. Other community members see us boarding up houses, and they come over and board them up with us. It’s happened multiple times before when people in the neighborhood see what we’re doing and come out to start cleaning around the house or help us put up the boards. They’ll tell us stories about the neighbors that used to live in those houses. I think people are scared to start doing something like that on their own, but once they see kids and teenagers doing it, I think they feel inspired that they can do it too. So that’s another way that through buildOn we’re playing a leadership role within our community.

People think a young black male in Detroit is either doing drugs or just out on the street. It’s easy to stereotype a group of people that you don’t know or understand, like saying that most black people come straight out of high school and go straight to jail. Or there’s not enough black people in college or studying science or other good majors.  I think these stereotypes are really unfair, like they’re discrimination. People shouldn’t be discriminated against the color of their skin. I feel like you should get to know someone before you just look at them and say, “he’s black and he does drugs.”

I’m changing those stereotypes through buildOn. I come to service every day, and I have completed more than 900 service hours.  I also went on Trek to Nicaragua, and I feel that by doing things like that and taking on more leadership roles, that’ll change the perspective.  Other people will see me doing good and want to do what I’m doing too.

A big lesson I’ve learned from doing buildOn at Osborn and going on Trek is that stereotypes aren’t true. Like, don’t take what’s on social media, don’t just take what people give you. Find out for yourself, do the research, go out there and find out what their culture is. Don’t just assume “Oh, that’s a stereotype, that must be true.” Take advantage of opportunities you have to get to know people that are different from you, see things from a different perspective, and then you can start changing those stereotypes!