Highland Park activist Mama Shu, volunteers transform blighted house into homework space for kids

The latest addition to Avalon Village in Highland Park is a project five years in the making.

"So glad this day is here. It's a long time coming, stop and go. Different things have happened, but we are finally here at this moment to open up today," said Shamayim Harris, aka Mama Shu.

Shu wanted to fight blight in her neighborhood while helping the community, so work started on The Homework House.

"Our team got together and said this is something we want to get involved with," said Bob Layne, with Habitat for Humanity. "This was really more about the kids, and we really feel that our future is in our kids."

Volunteers helped transform a house that was slated for demolition into a safe place for children to do their homework after school. 

"Sometimes people don't grasp that, that you can't do your homework around a lot of chaos," said Dr. Anita Bates, a professor at Wayne State University. 

That's not all – The Homework House also has a music studio, a basketball court, a playground, and will have a daycare in the future.

"This is a gifted and talented program focused on STEAM," said Boniswa Brock, with Every Child is a Genius Daycare. "We base it on how they grow. We grow with them."

The opening of the house comes on the 15th anniversary of the hit-and-run death of Mama Shu's 2-year-old son Jacobi Ra in 2007. Then in 2021, her son Chinyelu was murdered. It's pain she's channeled into progress, taking her neighborhood from blight to beauty.

"I'm just a citizen, just decided to say, ‘I want to fix up this block and do something with it and make it a phoenix rising,’ and that's what we did," Shu said.

More will be added to the house, too.

"This is a safe place. It's positive, and it's something we can be proud of as we move forward to rebuild our community," said Highland Park Councilman Ken Bates

From 3-6 p.m., the community is invited to tour The Homework House at 40 Avalon St. in Highland Park and pick up a backpack full of school supplies.