Out Our Way

9226 Kercheval: The Storefront That Did Not Burn

by Nancy Milio
University of Michigan, 224 pp., $2.45 (paper)

Neighborhood Government: The Local Foundations of Political Life

by Milton Kotler
Bobbs-Merrill, 111 pp., $4.95

As a visiting nurse, Nancy Milio observed at firsthand the horrifying conditions in the Detroit ghetto and became convinced that she and other professionals could help the poor. She assumed that government funds could be raised for a community health program. She expected the Visiting Nurses Association (which had expressed an interest in some of her ideas on community medicine) to help her, and the police and public health authorities to cooperate. She also believed that the people in the community would be grateful for her time and energy.

When I started 9226 Kercheval I felt I could write the rest of the script. A proposal is written; a community board with little power is formed; a modest program with a few young professionals begins and continues for a year or two, after which the professionals leave for more powerful and attractive jobs, but the local residents never gain control of the program. A report is submitted, another experiment with the poor is written off as a failure, and a legacy of bitterness is left behind which merges with the anger and hopelessness that characterize lives in the ghetto.

That was the story I expected 9226 Kercheval to tell. But Nancy Milio seems unlike most people who set up programs in other people’s neighborhoods and then leave after a few years, for throughout her book one is made aware of her own education by the black people she worked with. Her project, the Mom and Tots Center, was initially designed to provide prenatal care for community women, but it was transformed into something very different. For example, the center wanted to hire neighborhood women, but they had no one to care for their young children. Although the project was prohibited by the terms of its grant of funds from caring for children, Miss Milio nevertheless helped to create day care facilities at the center. Young kids from the neighborhood dropped in, but instead of kicking them out, which would have separated the center from the community, she started a group for them. She was supposed to limit her work to prenatal care but she set up programs for baby care and family planning as well, doing what the people near the center wanted instead of acceding to the advice of professionals or the constraints of government financing.

The book shows, as Nancy Milio illustrates in her work,

…first, that health, as a quality of life…must be mirrored in the process of undertaking to improve health. And that those who would involve others, especially the poor, in the process of healthful change, must themselves be involved: the one who would change others must himself be changed.

The subtitle of 9226 Kercheval is “The Storefront That Did Not Burn,” and the publishers make much of the fact that the Mom and Tots Center was not destroyed during the Detroit riots of 1968. That is not surprising, for such projects are more often destroyed by their sources of funds than by …

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