Sunday at Cass: June 13, 2015

Sunday at Cass
June 13, 2015


I drove through a drizzle into Detroit for this Sunday morning at Cass.  But by the time I arrived, the rain stopped.  The only time we got wet was when the wind blew, causing the droplets on the leaves of the canopy of trees to lose their grip.

Last time, I had brought a platter of cookies that I purchased at Meijer the night before.  People gladly took them, however they were loose.  I was concerned that if not consumed at the park, they’d end up crumbs after being packaged with all the other food and supplies our guests take home.

I did something different this Sunday.  I bought four 20-count boxes of chocolate chip cookies at Meijer, along with a package of fifty zip-lock sandwich bags.  At a card table in my basement, with a turntable spinning vinyl, I packaged two cookies to a zip-lock bag, making them a little more convenient for our friends.


It seemed to work well, and thus this has become my practice.

Chocolate chip cookies are my addiction.  And I refuse to recover.  I am especially addicted to Meijer’s chocolate chip cookies from their bakery.  The practice of placing two cookies in each bag, these delightful treats, with thoughtful intention, knowing they are going to be enjoyed by someone who needs them more than I, enhances appreciation for all that is around me.  I have been fortunate.  A small catastrophe, and I could be on the other side of the table.  Giving what I can, when I can, just feels right.  The fresh, chocolate aroma stimulating my senses, adds to the powerfully good feeling of giving them to our friends at Cass.

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Sunday at Cass: May 24, 2015

Sunday at Cass
May 24, 2015


What exactly is “Sundays in the Park with Our Friends and Forgotten Workers?”  How did it come about?

Sundays in the Park with Our Friends and Forgotten Workers began in the summer of 2011.  The Wobbly Kitchen of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) participated with the Detroit Underground Initiative with this event in solidarity of the Food Not Bombs group that had been arrested for giving food to the hungry in Orlando, FL.  Other social groups began participating in the semi-monthly gathering.

In 2013, a committee of volunteers coordinated a fund-raiser in which all the money raised would be spent on food and supplies donated at the park.  The first was held on November 14, 2013, with subsequent fundraisers held on October 16, 2014 and October 1, 2015.

If you are interested in participating, just come down to Cass Park in Detroit on the 2nd or 4th Sunday of the month.  The table and food set-up begins at 11AM and lasts a couple hours.  Don’t feel you have to bring something.  Just show up, and soon you’ll discover how you can help.

(Sources:  “Helping Friends at Cass Park.” and Fundraiser email by Maryanne Dunmire.)


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Sunday at Cass: May 10, 2015

Sunday at Cass
May 10, 2015

The evening before was the first home match of the season for Detroit City FC at Cass Tech High School stadium.  They hosted a friendly (an exhibition) match against the Muskegon Risers. The rain fell hard before the game, which caused my camera to shutdown before the match started.  I dropped it in a bag of rice, hoping for it to dry out quickly.  It emerged in the morning from its Lazarus Pit ready for another trip down to Cass.

Mother’s Day.  Single roses were distributed to the mothers this lovely morning.

This was the first Sunday that I went to Cass Park without going to Still Point first.  I brought with me eighteen pairs of socks that I had purchased at Costco.  From my hands they disappeared as quickly as I pulled them apart from their packaging.  I observed and I photographed. In reviewing the photos and reflecting on the couple hours at Cass this morning, I composed these words which have been the headliner to every Facebook photo album I’ve created since.

I walk amongst saints
as they administer to
others whose hunger is so deep
I cannot fathom.

I am no saint.  I’m merely a guy with a camera who shares these images of saints doing what saints do; performing miracles through their acts of compassion.

I have not experienced the sensation of going to bed hungry because there was no food in the kitchen; nor the anxiety of where tomorrow’s meal would come from.  I have not been in a situation where I did not have a bed to rest my head on at night. I have been extremely fortunate. And as I pulled the socks from their packaging, I was struck by the desire of those who snatched them up.  A shallow reaction might have been one of condemnation from a judgmental mind.  But I took a deep breath.  I realized that present before me was a hunger beyond the depth of my understanding.

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Sunday at Cass: April 26, 2015

Sunday at Cass
April 26, 2015

A brief history of the Cass Corridor.

Detroit’s Cass Corridor is a strip of the city which is bordered on the east by Woodward Avenue, on the west by the M-10/Lodge Freeway, on the north by Warren Avenue, and on the south by I-75.  Lewis Cass, Michigan’s Territory Governor from 1813 to 1831 and the Democratic Party presidential candidate in 1848, purchased the strip of land.  In the late 1800’s, the industrial revolution transformed the area into a neighborhood for the wealthy, until the turn of the 20th Century when the automobile industry grew, drawing more people to the city.  The upper class began building homes further from the heart of the bustling downtown.  With the increase in population, the expansive homes in the Corridor became apartments for new Detroiters to rent.  The area became more urban, and with Wayne State University at the northern section of the Corridor, the area transformed into the home of both poverty and art.  The revolutionary period of the 1960’s made Cass Corridor the Greenwich Village of Detroit, where artists, musicians, and writers created and protests took place while urban decay spread.


Cass Park is near the southern base of the Corridor.  On its southern border is Cass Tech High School.  Cass Union was the first school established in the area in 1861.  In 1919, the massive building was erected.  The new building was constructed in 2004, just north on an adjacent plot.  The old school was demolished after a 2007 fire damaged the vacated structure.

Cass Tech High School has an enrollment of just over 2,300 students, and is a Michigan Department of Education Reward School-Ranked in the top 5% of all high schools in the state of Michigan.  It was also the home stadium for four years to Detroit City FC, the city’s fourth-tier professional soccer team which entered the National Premiere Soccer League in 2012.

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On Cass Park’s western border is the Metropolitan Center for High Technology.  Owned by Wayne State University, it provides aid to technological start-ups.  It was originally constructed in the 1920’s and was the corporate headquarters for the S.S. Kresge Company until 1972 when it was donated to the Detroit Institute of Technology.


On the park’s northern border is the Masonic Temple, one of the architectural gems of Detroit.  Construction began on the temple in 1920 and was completed in 1926.  The sixteen-story building is host to concerts, shows, wedding receptions and graduations.  It is the world’s largest Masonic Temple.


On the park’s eastern border is about to be the new Illitch development.  You know, the one where the City of Detroit is providing corporate welfare to a billionaire so he can have a new hockey stadium, while the City files for bankruptcy, unable to pay pensions and debts.  I won’t rant, because Dave Zirin sums it up here.

I stopped by this particular morning after Still Point’s Sunday service.

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Images of America: Detroit’s Cass Corridor by Armando Delicato and Elias Khalil (Arcadia Publishing, 2012)
Cass Tech High School website

Sunday at Cass: March 8, 2015

Sunday at Cass
March 8, 2015


There are three events in the Buddha’s life that are recognized with special services at Still Point Zen Buddhist Temple.  There is the day of his birth (recognized with a Sunday service in May); his enlightenment (recognized with a Friday evening through Saturday morning sitting in January); and Parinirvana, or the day he died (recognized with a Sunday service in March).  On the day of the Parinirvana service in 2015 was another Sunday at Cass.

After having been given the honor to read the Four Brahma-viharas during the service – the four divine states of dwelling cultivated through meditation; The Way of Love; The Way of Compassion; The Way of Sympathetic Joy; The Way of Equanimity – and reminded and refreshed by the final words spoken by Buddha – Be diligent in your efforts to attain liberation – I made my way down to Cass Park after the service.

It was another chilly day where hearts were warm and hungry bellies filled.  No matter the person’s individual spiritual practice, the common religion of compassion and community is powerful to witness.

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Sunday at Cass: February 22, 2015

Sunday at Cass
February 22, 2015

I had heard about this semi-monthly action of compassion from Barbara Ingalls, a friend of mine.  She had often posted photos of this on her Facebook page.  It was easy for me to find reasons not to come down.  We had purchased a house in Chesterfield Township, a 30-mile jaunt down I-94; Still Point Zen Buddhist Temple’s service begins at 10:30AM, ending around 11:30AM, not leaving much time to swing down to Cass Park in time to participate significantly; and lately, there always seemed to be construction on I-94 on the weekends leading into Detroit, with more detours and back-ups obstructing the drive.  Then there was the weather – the cold and snow during the winter and the summer distractions.  And, to be honest, busy weeks and late-night Saturday nights discouraged me from setting an alarm on Sunday mornings.

But I wanted to do this.  I wanted to balance this with my practice.  I decided on this particular Sunday, after the service at Still Point, to witness what was going on at Cass Park.  My hope was to alternate Sundays – with sitting practice at Still Point on the 1st and 3rd (and 5th) Sundays of the month, and life practice on the 2nd and 4th.

I happened to pick a Sunday that Barb couldn’t attend.  I felt a little out of place, standing out in my Detroit Vipers jacket and camera slung around my neck.  I mingled a little.  One volunteer asked me about my Vipers jacket.  She told me her sister had dated Peter Ciavaglia – one of the stars of the team back in the day.  He is still in the area, she told me, as a financial consultant.  Vintage as it is, that Vipers jacket still opens the door to conversation.

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I chatted with the man on the left in the photo above.  He was a mechanic for twenty-plus years.  He admitted to using cocaine while employed, but held down the job all those years until the business went under.  He sought recovery and has been off drugs, which cost him his family.  He explained to me that they deserted him because they were all drug users and felt uncomfortable about his clean and sober lifestyle.  He worked for a garage for another couple years, but it closed, then he lost his apartment and had been homeless ever since.  He talked about taking care of his brother who had suffered a stroke and lived on the west side of Detroit.  His brother just sits around the house and bemoans about not being able to do anything, losing all sense of purpose.  He said he’d much rather be homeless and alive then moping around a home feeling hopeless.

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The scarves on the trees were left behind for those who wandered into Cass Park after everyone had left.

I was conservative about my photography, unsure of the protocol and wanting to respect the sanctity of what I was witnessing.