She calls it, “Avalon Village.” Shamayim Harris, also known as “Mama Shu,” is taking a departure from typical city life to create an eco-friendly and self sustainable village on Avalon Street from Woodward to Second.
Avalon Village wasn’t an idea from a dream or movie — it was created from the pains of Harris' life and the dilapidation of her surroundings.
In 2007, Harris' 2-year-old son, Jakobi, was murdered by a hit-and-run driver. “The total inspiration to actually begin it was nine years ago when my son got killed. I saw this place four years before, but when he died, I just decided to do it,” Harris said in a Detroit News video.
After this tragic event in her life, Harris was moved to uplift her city and to start first with her block. “What inspired me to start building Avalon Village was looking at my blighted neighborhood and knowing that a lot of the things that we had before were closed. We wanted to build a village that basically would reinstate or restore some of those things that we lost as a community," Harris told the News.
After Jakobi's death, Harris bought a house on Avalon that's home to the Moon Ministry, a religious and nonprofit organization. The ministry's mission is to help neighbors gain self-knowledge and enhancement. This was the initial start of the Avalon village. In 2011, Harris quit her job to pursue her vision of the village more seriously. She began to sell her own goods — shea butter, candles, incense, and oils — and her living room morphed into the Goddess Marketplace.
In June, Highland Park resident and rapper Supa Emcee released a song, "AVALON," in support of Harris' project.
Harris' plans for Avalon Village include transforming vacant lots into basketball and tennis courts, urban gardens, and stores. Older, neglected houses would be renovated for an after-school program. The first abandoned house in the project is being transformed into a Homework House. The Homework House will hold a computer lab, kitchen, library, recording studio, and tutoring programs. Overall, Harris' goal is to acquire 16 houses.
Harris is not alone while building the village: she has several sponsors and the support of Highland Park Mayor Hubert Yopp. Harris raised more than $243,000 in a Kickstarter campaign, becoming the second-most successful civic design campaign ever. The band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros donated $100,000.
Harris craved change in Highland Park and didn’t expect anyone else to hand it to her.
"It's a huge undertaking, more so for the community just to take charge of the situation and change our environment for ourselves and not to depend on government … we just decided to take it upon ourselves," said Gerrajh Surles, Avalon Village's project engineer.