hours before the start of Black History Month, New Era Detroit quickly became known. The non-profit initiative The Streets Is Watching was praised when the video showed black male volunteers ensuring the safety of black women by escorting them after dark. This includes leaving work, loading groceries, and even pumping gas.
On The Shade Room’s Instagram account alone, the video garnered over 6.4 million views and more than 500,000 likes.
Although for many people this may have been a first impression of the organization, its co-founder and president Zeek Williams says New Era is a household name in Detroit.
“It’s taken eight years for the world to see some of the things we do in our community,” Williams said in a video interview with TSR on Friday (Jan. 10).
And they are making their own history by serving uncompromisingly to black people in Detroit every day since August 2014. Not just the “typical gift times”. Their program includes consistently bringing resources to Black people’s doorsteps, including but not limited to city council updates, representative information, year-round entertainment for children, resources for access to food and utilities.
This special program, called Hood to Hood, runs year-round, especially during the summer when impromptu communities and children need resources most.
“We don’t apologize [serving the Black community,]’ Zeek said. “If one house on the block is on fire, why would I take a fire hose and water all the other houses?”
Serving and protecting Black people is a way of life for the New Era Nation
New Era wants this way of life and community building to be a way of life and not an expression of charity, punishment or seasonal donations.
“Our goal is always to be a responsible organization. I feel like in our community, in black communities, we’re getting used to clichés like, ‘okay, we’re going to do something for the community when Thanksgiving comes around’. We will return turkeys. When the kids go back to school, we’ll make backpacks. We give away toys at Christmas.
We summarize our community work and our social commitment with a handful of events per year. It’s like our community needs so much more when you talk about attention, structure, organization and things like that. For us, we want to be able to do for your people, to do for your community, to make a kind of lifestyle and to make people understand that we are not just waiting for traditions or holidays to do something for our people .”
Co-Founder and Managing Director Kierra Williams and Zeek agree in their impassioned sayings about the nonprofit. She speaks eloquently about the core of the organization – to do SOMETHING to improve the world of Black children and communities.
“Our organization focuses on accountability, personal responsibility, budgetary responsibility, community responsibility, economic and financial responsibility. Those are just five of our principles, but it really is a lifestyle.”
“One thing Brother Malcolm X said that really resonated with me is, ‘We’re not outnumbered, we’re disorganized.’ So it’s also about accountability. By holding ourselves accountable and recognizing that we as a people have the power to take back our communities. We don’t have to wait for a political figure to do this, we don’t have to wait for our church to come up and do this. These are things we can do ourselves if we feel responsible for them. These are obligations we should have to our communities and to our children.”
New Era doesn’t want to monitor the community, it wants to protect vulnerable black people
Then there’s the element of public safety — an issue that Zeek says plagues the black community but is often overlooked.
“We have so many different aspects of community growth and I feel like one of the things that always gets swept under the rug is security. Public safety is a real concern in black communities and has been for quite some time.”
Her “Streets Is Watching” initiative from the viral video has been around since the organization started. New Era Detroit recently began mentoring the predominantly female staff of the Little Scholars Development Center.
The staff usually closes in the evenings. They provide care and education for children between the ages of infancy and the age of 4, while also offering after-school performing arts for the 5 to 13 year olds.
In December, 19-year-old Bradley Thurman shot and robbed 53-year-old wife and mother Tracie Golden in a party shop. The incident happened just minutes from Little Scholars.
After that, employees at the New Era development center contacted Detroit. The organization engaged members to ensure staff and their children exit the center safely and without fear of injury.
“We had a great response [New Era Detroit]. They came in, they were very professional,” said Debbie Taylor, Little Scholars administrative assistant. “They made us feel comfortable, they introduced themselves. And from the day they walked in, they were at work. They made sure they asked us when we were going and we said when do you start and he said we start now because… you guys need some protection. They started work straight away, that’s why I felt so safe, so safe. It made us feel like we had someone in the community looking out for us.”
Head of Human Resources Jarrite Jackson said members of New Era Detroit, who asked surrounding businesses, including a gas station and a liquor store, about outdoor cameras for “extra protection.”
But New Era isn’t about toting guns or promoting violence, it’s about protecting innocent people – the vulnerable – women, children and the elderly.
“We are working on de-escalation, conflict resolution and community engagement. That is paramount as we monitor even our own communities – making sure people understand that we come with peace and love. It’s not about coming out with force and saying we’re big and bad and we have guns…but we’re out there to protect innocent people. Our goal is simply to leave innocent people alone.”
New Era isn’t necessarily here to confront violence, including gang violence. Its purpose is to protect people who go about their daily lives like Little Scholars staff.
New Era Detroit co-founder credits black women for success
Aside from videos of their public safety initiatives, New Era depends heavily on black women. That’s a point Zeek made clear. Yes, it started out as an all-male group, but Zeek says it lasted a week.
When they had their first official meeting, black women were also present and willing to do the work, including co-founder Kierra.
According to Zeek, expanding his membership was “the best decision ever.” He credits black women and their partnership and unity for the continued growth of New Era, including opening chapters in 18 additional cities.
“There is nothing successful without the help of black women, especially when you talk about black movements,” Zeek said. He added, “The reason we’ve been so successful and come this far is because of black women.”