Image: Justin "J Millz" Milhouse
Hot on the heels of Black History month and in the spirit of our current Women's History month, now is the perfect time to tell the story of Black Bottom LLC, a grass-roots effort aiming to get black youth immersed in the history of Detroit's once all-black neighborhood, Black Bottom, which before becoming the I-375 highway, was developed by black people who migrated from the south in search of opportunity and subsequently created it for themselves. Beyond the area's history, Black Bottom LLC's mission is to recreate the essence of determination and culture that emanated from the community.
With 83% of its population African American, Detroit is definitively a black city. But that doesn't mean the black communities there are benefitting from the town's revitalization. In fact, many community activists and entrepreneurs outside of downtown Detroit say not enough investments are going into the Motor City's "black" neighborhoods. Without adequate funding, universal internet access, and education, preserving the culture of these areas is a tall order.
Black Bottom LLC founders Camille Johnson and Paige Watkins, natives of Detroit, are up for the task. In January of last year, they launched the Black Bottom Archives, an online platform where Black Detroiters can share their ideas, knowledge, and projects with their community.
"We have a lot of friends who are writers, but we realized that a lot of them didn’t have access to platform where they could share their voice," says Johnson. "So we wanted to create a place where people could share their work with their community, and ensure that while the city is redeveloping and while we’re all trying to find our place in it, we have access to resources that help us understand why it’s important for black people to be a part of the changes in Detroit, and what the danger is nationally of not including black people in the discussion—not including on laws and other issues."
Fully functioning with a magazine, podcast, community calendar, and curated diretory of black businesses and initiatives in Detroit, Johnson and the Black Bottom LLC team are working on building a marketplace, as they understand that accessibility to products is important.
"As we’re talking about building community and building neighborhoods, we want to make sure that people who don’t necessarily have a storefront at the time are able to sell their products," says Johnson. "We have about 400 businesses that we know of — a lot to them are retail businesses—but it’s hard to get them customers because they either don’t have the audience or they don’t have the resources to run their websites."
Johnson says she wants for Black Bottom Archives to be is a hub for blacks in the city and a virtual community. With 40% of the Detroit population living without internet access strategic partnerships and funding will be paramount.
In addition to providing a digital outlet for blacks in Detroit, Johnson plans to expand the initiative to include internships and workshops that foster economic and financial literacy and other vital life skills. She says she sees Black Bottom Archives as the educational piece to a larger goal. Black Bottom LLC is currently developing apprenticeships and a tutoring program, which will have an emphasis on black history and focus on ways educators can make the learning experience relatable for black students.
The Black Bottom neighborhood may no longer be in tact in infrastructure, but by virtue of its origin and that of Black Bottom LLC's—self-determination and progress—the pride and spirit of the once famous corner of Detroit will not be forgotten.
This article is part of TheToolbox.org's #WomenInFront series, powered by Humanise. Learn more about the initiative at WomenInFront.net, or join the conversation on social media: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.