What is it like raising children in Detroit?

Six parents share their experiences

We talked with parents from across the city about their experiences raising children here: what’s going right, challenges they’re facing, and why they’re hopeful about the future.

Four Detroit parents sitting and having a conversation

Detroit parents in conversation

Esmeralda Torres lives in Southwest Detroit with her husband and three children, who range in age from five months to seven years. James Hill lives in Grandmont-Rosedale with his wife and three children. Ora Williams is a Brightmoor resident who is raising her 10-year-old granddaughter and helping to raise her seven-year-old grandson. LaToya Kimbrough lives with her parents, her two-year-old son, and her two nieces, ages 10 and 12. Their eastside Detroit home is where she grew up. Frankie Piccirilli has lived in Indian Village for seven years with her husband, where they’re raising two daughters. Edgar Gomez is lives on the west side of Detroit where he co-parents his young daughter with her mom.

What’s working well for you and your family in Detroit?

Frankie: I really love our neighborhood. The best part about living here is the community. We have made so many wonderful friends that I actually consider family. They’re always a phone call away. We recently lost our child care option, and two of the stay-at-home moms who live near us offered to help this summer because I’m a working mom. So they’re taking care of my children. I don’t think it gets better than that.

We have been so overwhelmingly pleased with school options in the city. People don’t talk about how good some of the schools in Detroit are. I’m impressed with places like Detroit Edison Public School Academy and University Prep. There are more than a few DPS elementary schools that I thought were great options. We don’t talk enough about the positive things going on in the schools or the teachers that are running the classrooms helping to educate all these children.

Esmerelda Torres

Esmeralda Torres

Esmeralda: I love my neighborhood. Yes, it has its flaws. There are occasional shootings, all the garbage and the blight. But the neighbors are slowly fighting these, and our community is becoming more vibrant. We have a lot of leaders who are helping to restore the parks, and we try to take part in our own neighborhood. We know our neighbors, and one of the things I love about my block is it’s one of the most populated with children that you will find in Detroit. There’s always something going on outside with all the children. And I love that aspect because I don’t think I would see that in any other neighborhood. If I were living in the suburbs, I wouldn’t be able to find something like that.

Edgar: There are a lot of family friendly events happening in the city throughout the year. I am a very busy person working two part time jobs and being a college student. Knowing that I can leave my daughter at an after school program or even a summer program for a couple hours a day really supports me being successful for my daughter.

What are the challenges of raising a family in Detroit?

Ora: My community is a desert area, basically. Or we were, I’ll put it that way. We now have a brand new Meijer that opened up in our community, which has made it easier to get fresh fruit and vegetables and just go grocery shopping, period. Before, there was no place to go unless you got in your car. If you had transportation, you could go to a store that was in one of the neighboring areas. Another challenge that I see is with health and hygiene. I think that comes from not being able to readily access laundromats. See, that’s another part of it: you could have these things in your community, but if you don’t have the finances to pay to wash your clothes…

Frankie Piccirilli

Frankie Piccirilli

Frankie: Child care has been really difficult. When my first daughter was first born, we were going to an in-home daycare in the suburbs, but I work in the city, so it was a lot of driving back and forth. Recently we lost our child care option for our second child. She’s on multiple waiting lists because child care is full around the city.

I also drive really far to take my daughter to activities. She does competitive cheer, and there’s not a cheer gym or a gymnastics gym close to my home. She was at a dance studio on the northwest side that we really loved, but I was driving 40 minutes to get there because I live on the far east side. It just felt crazy to me.

James Hill

James: For me, there was never any question as to whether or not I would want my children to be cared for or educated in Detroit. The challenge came, however, when we wanted to find a place that we felt was the right fit. We found no child care centers in our neighborhood, and very few centers or schools within a short drive from our house. As a result all of our children are now commuting with us every day downtown, and that isn’t community to us. We’d love for them to be able to have access to programs near our home.

Esmeralda: Our biggest challenge is the lack of community-owned businesses. I would love to see more thriving local businesses where you can go to the corner store and get bread or walk a couple streets over and get fresh fruit. Now, whatever we need, we need to travel for that.

I would also love to see more community centers. We’ve lost so many YMCAs. The new one is in the middle of downtown, and with traffic and parking… There’s nothing like having it right in your backyard. If community centers are low-cost or free, you will have them full for sure, because parents are always looking for those kinds of things for their children.

We have to realize that this is going to take all of us, not just one or two people. We’ve got to all pitch in, and if everybody pitches in and does their little bit, it will make Detroit a much better and safer place.– Ora Williams

LaToya: A couple of weeks ago, I had an incident where I asked: “Are those fireworks or gunshots?” Unfortunately, it was gunshots. That was nerve-wracking because I have a young child. It’s scary to experience those types of things, but at the same time I love my city. I want to stay in this city, but I do fear moving out of my parents’ house with just my son and living in the city by myself. I’m a young woman with a small child, and people might prey on that.

My son will be going to kindergarten in a couple years, and I’ll have to take him to school outside of my community. I would like the convenience of being able to take him around the corner. My nieces, they live with us but they don’t go to school in our neighborhood. They went to a charter school in Roseville because we didn’t have any schools. With my son, maybe I’ll be able to send him there as well, but it’s not in our neighborhood so I have to drive. What concerns me is not so much my family, but what about the kids in my neighborhood? I care about their education just as much as I care about my son. They don’t have transportation, so they’re forced to go to the schools in our neighborhood, or they’re forced to play at the park where people are drinking or doing adult activities. That’s not really something they should be around.

What are one or two things that would really make a difference when raising your kids in the city?

Esmeralda: That is a very difficult question because you can think of a million things that are needed. But in order to encourage my kids’ education, I would love to see more tutoring and more support. The Detroit Public School system is overcrowded and the teachers are overworked. I would love to see more support for children, parents and teachers. I didn’t realize there were certain resources for parents until my little girl was in kindergarten. If I would have known about these resources when she was freshly born, it would have made a difference in her education.

James: There’s so much discussion around improving our schools, but we know for a fact that for our boys, a solid early childhood education made all the difference in them being able to adjust to school. We consider ourselves informed, but there needs to be more information available to all Detroit families on enrolling in preschool.

Portrait of Ora Williams, a grandmother living in Detroit

Ora Williams

Ora: It’s the communication network. We’re not letting parents know what kind of resources are out there. You have to get the word out because a lot of times organizations need people in their programs, and they’re not getting enough people because nobody knows about it.

And keep moving that blight. And that’s not just in Brightmoor. Blight all over the city. Just making it safe for children to walk, safe for people to catch buses, just making it safe period. These abandoned houses, the weeds that are tall as me, there’s so much that can happen.

Edgar Gomez

Edgar Gomez

Edgar: I would like if there was a community of parents banded together to help each other, similar to a parent group in schools but something more community based, or even online. Although I am already well connected to what is going on, I feel like there is a large population of parents who are not, and it would be amazing to be able to share that information.

Frankie: It is already going on in the city, but I’d like to see more park reinvestment. That’s where you build community. We live close to the Erma Henderson Park. Recently the city stepped in and redid it, so this summer we’ve been riding our bikes two blocks and we hang out there all the time. It’s awesome that we are so close to this park and that our kids can get to know other neighborhood kids. Otherwise I don’t think that we would have that opportunity.

What makes you hopeful about raising your children in Detroit?

Frankie: I really want to raise my children in a diverse community. I used to have this checklist of all the things I enjoyed about living in Chicago, and I feel like I have checked off almost every box when we moved back to Detroit. Slowly but surely it’s coming around.

Esmeralda: I am hopeful, for sure. I have lived here my whole life. It’s almost a renaissance in Detroit. Just to go downtown. It’s slowly and surely becoming beautiful. I do see investment in the community and new businesses thriving, and I see this pride and love for the community. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone here say that they don’t love living here. Yes, it has it challenges, definitely, but I am very hopeful that tomorrow will be another Detroit, and we’re very close.

LaToya Kimbrough

LaToya Kimbrough

LaToya: You’re actually seeing people putting things in motion. Downtown is coming together. They’re actually trying to fix the school system. They are starting to tear down abandoned houses in certain neighborhoods. Parks are being renovated. You’re seeing people actually doing the work, so it does make me feel hopeful that things are going to turn around, get better.

Ora: When I first moved to Brightmoor, I watched how it was. I watched it go down, and now I’m watching it come back up because there are people interested in the city as a whole, and they’re interested in communities. We’re putting the “neighbor” back in “neighborhood,” because no man is an island. We have to realize that this is going to take all of us, not just one or two people. We’ve got to all pitch in, and if everybody pitches in and does their little bit, it will make Detroit a much better and safer place.