By Amanda Lewan
July 25, 2013
When you talk about dedicating your life to a mission, someone like Shamyle Nesfield comes to mind. Shamyle has spent her entire professional career in civic engagement and community building, working to make neighborhoods stronger and safer. With Detroit’s many neighborhoods suffering from blight and vacancy, the city could use more leaders like Shamyle.
At Michigan Community Resources
, Shamyle is currently the Interim CEO, directing their three programs: legal and policy, education and outreach, and technical. Shamyle is strong-willed, with the clear and analytical mind of a lawyer and the drive to always serve her purpose.
Originally from Brooklyn, Shamyle first arrived to Michigan to receive her Master’s in Social Work at the University of Michigan. In Ann Arbor she began her work in nonprofits, teaching young people about civic engagement. After graduate school, Shamyle came to Detroit where she enrolled in law school at Wayne State University and eventually learned about Community Legal Resources, which later developed into Michigan Community Resources.
When she joined the nonprofit in 2008, the company was just beginning to form a Detroit Vacant Property campaign that Shamyle helped orchestrate. Shamyle has since grown with Michigan Community Resources helping combat blight in Detroit.
A city often described as being in the process of rebuilding can’t rebuild in the most broken areas without the tools needed to create change. Michigan Community Resources estimates at least 80,000 vacant housing units, and 33,000 vandalized or poorly-maintained housing units in the city, jeopardizing the safety of the surrounding areas. Where empty spaces begin to appear in Detroit’s neighborhoods, Shamyle works to fill communities with the necessities they need for taking positive action.
"We’ve really been a trailblazer in our role to help property owners," says Shamyle. "We provide them with vacant property services and strategies to make the property work."
Through the Vacant Property Campaign, Shamyle helps communities receive tools for addressing the vacancy, including documents for strategies, assistance with mapping, data and market analysis, ownership and title research, and more. They also help connect community groups to larger resources across the city.
"There’s strength in numbers, and that’s what we’re aiming for," Shamyle says. She also sees strength regardless of age, and helped form a Youth Blight Academy in partnership with Focus Hope. "We want young people to understand how the areas of city have fallen into disrepair. We can expose them to community work and create opportunities for them to give back."
To tackle vacancy in Detroit, Michigan Community Resources goes into neighborhoods to assess the properties and then develops a strategy to deal with the land.
"Our goal is to get communities organized and strategizing community change," says Shamyle. Several neighborhoods have benefited from their help, including the 80-percent owner-occupied Grandmont Rosedale community of 14,000.
In order to create change, communities must understand what resources they have available to use to their benefit. Shamyle is dedicated to providing those tools and guidance to Detroit residents, aiming to fill in the gaps in neighborhoods across the city.
"My life’s work, no matter what city I live in, is to develop strength within neighborhoods to improve the quality of life in cities."
With a resource like Shamyle Nesfield working for Detroit, residents can focus on rebuilding neglected areas together as a community.
All photos by Doug Coombe.