Shuttered St. Cyprian's church to be reborn as community center, house of hip-hop

Carl Hardin is taking a walk down memory lane. He's a historian of sorts for St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church on Detroit's west side.

"It was the first Black Episcopal church on this side of town," he said. "I was proud of that history and it did make a difference in the community."

The stores and restaurants that once lined these streets are gone now, replaced by vacant lots and urban blight.

St. Cyprian's, most notably helmed by Reverend Canon Malcolm Dade, was permanently shuttered Sept.12th, 2021.

The closing ceremony was performed by Bishop Bonnie Perry. No more Palm Sunday teas or social clubs - leaving a void in the neighborhood.

"I don't know that it had to happen," Hardin said. "I felt like there were some options that could have been explored like combining congregations. I was very disappointed because it had been my life for so long."

In the year following St. Cyprian's closure, Detroit police say although homicides are down, burglary, motor vehicle theft and larceny are up in the neighborhood.

The loss of St. Cyprian's is felt not only by the community but by the families who grew up here. This was my church. I was baptized here, confirmed here, my parents were on the vestry. All memories I'll hold close.

The origin of St. Cyprian's can be traced to St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, or Mattie Joes as it's known now, on the city's east side.

Originally established by Reverend William Monroe in 1846, members of St. Matthew's congregation established St. Cyprian's in the 1920s when white churches objected to black parishioners.

St. Matthew's made sure everyone had a place to pray, learn and teach.

"One of the things about St. Matthews,' we've always been about education from the very beginning," said Dr. RIchard Smith, a historian. "It was about service and faith and all those three things combined, made us successful through all these years."

On this Sunday, former St. Cyprianites seek solace from a third Black Episcopal church, All Saints, near Detroit's Avenue of Fashion.

Father Anthony Estes is the common thread here. He is the rector of both All Saints and Mattie Joes.

"St. Cyprians will always be my church, my home church," said Rebecca Morris. "But the one thing that I do believe (is) Black churches will never give up, they will always be there, a place for you to feel comfortable."

Former St. Cyprian's member Lawrence Price hoped St. Cyprian's would be his final resting place.

"All my family is buried at St. Cyprian's and we all thought that day would come when we, too, our homecoming would be from St. Cyprians," said Lawrence Price. "I'm just happy that my wife and I have a church where we can worship in, we could serve and we can fellowship."

Our story doesn't end there. Let's go back to St. Cyprian's, back to the west side.

"What up doe Detroit, I'm Rashard Dobbins. Welcome to the house of hip-hop and to my community. Let's get it," he said.

Concept art by Class Act Detroit

Concept art by Class Act Detroit

Dobbins is the new owner of St. Cyprian's Church. Class Act Detroit has plans to turn the sanctuary into an empowerment zone for young people.

Labeling the church, a house of hip-hop, former entertainer and educator Rashad Dobbins says the goal is to heal the community, providing a safe space for young people with aspirations.

"If you care about babies, if you care about working families, if you care about hip-hop, if you care about getting things done and not having red tape, this is the space for you to manifest that and do that. It's a place for self-actualization," he said.

And so it comes full circle. The halls I played in as a kid, the church where I learned life lessons, gives back to the community once again, fortifying a whole new generation.

Preserving the foundation and artifacts of the church, Dobbins preaches generational change.

"We're not coming in here to destroy," he said. "We're coming in to upcycle, recycle and appreciate. I'm a man of faith. I would say rock with us - this is a true community effort."