anya Meeks is the sole community affairs police officer standing in Flint, Mich., where she works every day – including some Saturdays – to help the city get back on its feet. Sergeant Meeks has served Flint’s police department for 17 years, including lean months when she kept up community safety as a civilian, after budget cuts required the layoffs of more than a third of the city’s police force.
“I came back to the city to work on neighborhoods and the block clubs – not in uniform, no cruiser. They still treated me as ‘Officer Meeks,’ saying, ‘We need you…’ It was not about me; it was about services – because I came back, to them, the work never stopped. We kept rolling.”
Meeks and Flint’s motivated citizens kept Vehicle City moving forward. She told willing residents, “Open your curtains and doors and come outside and help,” and says “It was an eye opener for people to help ourselves and help our neighbors. Every week, somebody was calling to say, ‘I want to sign up for a block club, can you come to my block club meeting…Hey can you come and address my block club…’”
The requests and projects led Meeks to start Flint Neighborhoods United – today, approximately 50 neighborhoods are represented, and each can bring up to three people to regular community meetings, “for teaching and encouragement, so they don’t feel overwhelmed.” Together, they work on reducing blight, improving vacant lots and increasing public safety.
Empowered by Mayor Dayne Walling, Meeks eventually returned to the police department and ramped up community partnerships. A grant from Cities of Service helped Walling and Meeks to better support and sow a crop of willing resident volunteers.
“We always had volunteers – they just weren’t on the scale of what Mayor Walling did,” Meeks said.“I can go out and show block clubs what they need to do, but they – we – don’t have resources.”
“With Cities of Service (grant support and assistance) we help people to help themselves – it was us saying, ‘We are coming to do it with you.’ We were able to provide tools and resources that they needed. They didn’t mind getting out, they just needed someone to help them.”
It has paid off: Meeks likens the City of Flint to “a Timex – it keeps on ticking,” and she is part of its mechanism. She coordinates the city’s Blue Badge Volunteer Corps, spreads information and inspiration to more than 320 community members and neighborhood and church groups and schools via her individual email, and makes sure the youth of the city are taken care of – because she recognizes that they are the future, and best insurance against setbacks.
Describing a graffiti cleanup, Meeks remembers “7 and 8 year olds with paintbrushes, in flip flops, ready to go. I had to tell them to put on tennis shoes; they were like, ‘I’m ready to paint!’ I was in plainclothes; once they see you again – in uniform – they’re like ‘Ohhh – you’re the police?!’
The younger you get them, the better, because they don’t want to see litter in their neighborhoods, where they’re happy planting flowers.”Meeks is recognized by residents young and old, and she recognizes their resilience.
“You look at neglected houses where people have held on – it’s resilience; seeing others hold on gives you inspiration.”
“I’m sure there’s other places in the world where that’s true. I’ve seen and lived it the last couple years, the blight coming down and light shining – you can see where it’s going to go.”