John George's Blight Busters marks nearly 30 years helping Detroit

Image 1 of 9

Driving in Detroit - you may not realize - a boarded up house, a vacant lot, a neighborhood restored, spearheaded by John George.

"Where the original crack house was, was where this all started, was on the lot right there." George said. "

George grew up in Brightmoor and moved to the Old Redford area in northwest Detroit. In 1988, crime began to move in and he refused to move his young family out. 

"We didn't want to move but at the same time didn't want our children growing up around negative energy - that's child abuse," he said. "I love the city and of course I love my family. As a father I felt I had a moral obligation to do whatever I could do make this neighborhood safe and this city better." 

So by himself, George decided to board up and clean up a known crack house that once stood on a vacant lot.

"When the drug dealers came back they couldn't get in," he said. "So they got in their Jeep and they left. We looked at each other and said that was pretty simple. I said to the guys what are you doing next Saturday, let's do it again."

"The Old Redford Clean Up Association" as it was once called, caught on - and with more attention, came more volunteers and donations.

"We were in the backyard and we were eating chicken and drinking beer, my buddies were there and I said you know what this company just donated to us?" George said. "So we walked into the garage I showed them the lawnmower and when I picked up the weedwacker, he was like you guys are like 'The Ghost Busters.'  

"I said oh my God, God bless you, you just gave me a million-dollar idea."

The name "Blight Busters" not complete without the Ghostbuster-esque mobile, is the same donated station wagon George has been driving since 1988.

The non-profit is now celebrating 30 years. Not all have been easy, and not always legal when it came to tearing down a house. But the city didn't stand in their way and George never gave up.

"I am not one who wants to break the law but I have a moral obligation to my children, my wife, the seniors in the community, the property values for that matter," George said. "I did what I had to do but now the mayor is doing it and we don't have to."

He says times have changed under Mayor Mike Duggan.

"We are going to allow the mayor to do what a mayor is supposed to do and that's remove these blighted, dangerous structures from our community," George said. "I know there has been some issues and problems but when you have the largest most aggressive blight removal program in the country you will make mistakes. But I believe in the mayor and I believe his heart is in the right place."

It allows George to work on a number of new projects including the growing Blight Busters campus in the Old Redford neighborhood.

"This is a studio we built for jazz and other local artists," George said.

Specifically, Artist Village - a bustling five blocks on Lasher which includes his coffee shop, art gallery, performance space and outdoor courtyards.

It is an area that's come a long way since George boarded up his first house. But he says none of the work possible without the thousands of people who have volunteered their blood sweat and tears over the years.

"Bringing people together from all walks of life," he said. "We have a very diverse staff, volunteer base and board."

Perhaps his biggest accomplishment was coining the phrase Angels Night and convincing then-Mayor Dennis Archer to take it city wide.

"We created a holiday, a city-wide celebration," George said. "We looked at Angels Night as not only a time to patrol and protect, but to celebrate all the good things going on."

This Angel's Night Motor City blight busters will celebrate its 30 years’ anniversary. And although George looks forward to a new chapter in Detroit - his work will carry on and as always - everyone is welcome.

"Until they stuff me in the ground, I am going to continue to be a Blight Buster," George said. "We are going to continue to do the things that we know will create pride in this community."