On the Corner: Diverse(soup)city

Lacey Harris

You pull up on Joseph Campau in Hamtramck, and head toward Maria’s Comida–famous for it’s unique fusion of Mexican and Chinese favorites. Tonight is a special night though, and the fragrant smell of huge pots of soup simmering in the kitchen fill the air–butternut squash, barley, lentil. Candles flicker on table tops, and the murmurs of conversations among friends and neighbors came wafting over along with the savory smells of soup.

Greeted warmly at the door, you are asked for a suggested donation of $7, and receive in return a voting slip, an announcement card, soup, appetizers, and dessert–homemade by volunteers from Maria’s Comida and the local community. As you ladle warm spoonfuls into your mouth, the presentations begin. A range of groups outline proposals and visions for community projects. After hearing the impact of what each project would have on the city, and how funding would be used to support their work, the floor opens for questions. Now it is time to make your voice heard. Diners get out their voting slips and mark which group they want to receive the money raised at the door tonight. The votes are tallied, the winner announced, and everyone continues to mingle together and celebrate. This is Diverse(soup)city–a grassroots, community-based, micro-funding program.

Diverse(soup)city, inspired by Detroit Soup and Soup at Spalding, began in February of 2011. Since then, Diverse(soup)city continues to be held on the third Sunday of every month at 6pm. Throughout the night participants are encouraged to announce community events with the hope of creating interest and knowledge in the activities that are already occurring in Hamtramck. We have had various projects proposed this past year such as a new sign for Hatch: A Hamtramck Art Collective, City Wheat, Hamtramck Citizens Patrol, Walk for Warm on behalf of Friendship House, Hamtramck High School student honor’s society, a Hamtramck dog park, various greening projects, and a local mentor-ship program. We envision Diverse(soup)city events as not only a way of staying in touch with new, ongoing, and creative activities in the community, but also as a forum for critical discussion.

But how does Diverse(soup)city work? Each month, organizers accept 3-4 proposals for the next event. To submit a proposal, simply let Diverse(soup)city organizers know of your interest in submitting a proposal, and commit to a 3-5 minute presentation of your project at Diverse(soup)city. To do this, you can drop into Maria’s Comida or send us an email. Our other requirement is for proposals at Diverse(soup)city to be connected with and occur in the city of Hamtramck.

A year into the project, there have been many lessons learned as we navigated the process of developing and growing with Diverse(soup)city. Some of the highlights over the year have been the community development of support for projects and monthly discussions and support of community events. During this process we witnessed a continued development of rapport among community members, and celebrated times when monthly dinner attendance left no extra seats or standing space at Maria’s Comida.

One exciting experience for Diverse(soup)city this year was the opportunity to participate as a feature in a portion of the documentary Detroit in Overdrive, which aired on Green Planet–the first and only 24-hour eco-lifestyle television network. Throughout the year, we experienced some challenges as well. Often times, we did not have enough submission for the month’s dinner and were left down to the wire to encourage proposal submissions. We’ve continued to discuss and take action to encourage more people to attend events for the first time, and to increase the participation of the diverse populations that reside in our community.

During our November monthly dinner, we encouraged participants of Diverse(soup)city to have an open reflective dialogue about strengths and criticisms of Diverse(soup)city over the last year. Some feedback that was received included the criticism that although projects won a micro-grant, there was rarely a report back from how that project had developed or were using the funds. Several people suggested that we invite back the previous month’s winners to the next month to provide a report back to the group. Other thoughts included having themed months, for example, featuring proposals dedicated to youth-developed projects, art-based projects, or greening projects in a given month. Much of what will happen this year at Diverse(soup)city will be facilitated through the continued commitment of the community and participants to grow and develop each month’s event. We invite you to drop by the next Diverse(soup)city at 6pm on Sunday, February 19th.

Get Involved:
Maria’s Comida
11411 Joseph Campau St
Hamtramck, MI 48212