July 9, 2020

Can you guess what is pictured in the photo above? Click the image above for the answer and more.
Washtenaw joins several other Michigan counties in declaring racism to be a public health crisis. The August 4 Democratic primary is swiftly approaching, and local candidates are striving to prove their commitments to racial equity, restorative justice, and public health. Covid cases are rising sharply statewide, prompting the Governor to pull back on easing certain restrictions in Lower Michigan. 

Farmers markets are flush with summer bounty, and local growers and food aid organizations are working to make fresh food available to increasing numbers of residents who can’t afford it. 

Trilby MacDonald, editor

In the News


With  Covid-19 cases rising again, Governor Whitmer halted plans to move Lower Michigan into Phase 5 of her Safe Start plan, which would have allowed fitness centers to reopen after the July 4th holiday. After more than 170 infections were traced to an East Lansing bar, she also suspended inside service for bars downstate. New cases of Covid-19 in Washtenaw County remain low, but "the bad news is we all think there will be another wave," warns Michigan Medicine physician Valerie Vaughn

Campaigns for the August 4 Democratic primary elections are in high gear, and the race for county prosecutor is the one to watch. Hugo Mack, Eli Savit, and Arianne Slay all promise to transform the criminal justice system represented by retiring prosecutor Brian Mackie. (Slay’s sticker on the cover of the July Observer was a paid advertisement.) 

The League of Women Voters – Ann Arbor Area is hosting forums for candidates running in the Aug. 4 primary election. Ann Arbor city council contests are already online, with county, state, and federal races following throughout July. 

The Washtenaw County Board of Health declared racism a public health crisis. Washtenaw ranks 80 out of 83 counties in Michigan for income inequality, and the “COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated existing racial inequities and further highlighted racism as a root cause of poorer health,” the resolution states. African Americans make up 12.7 percent of the county’s population and 33 percent of coronavirus cases. 

The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners voted on July 1 to create a Commission on Aging to ensure that the needs and desires of senior citizens, which make up 18% of the county’s population, are reflected in the Board’s budget and policy decisions. 

At the seventh annual Breakfast of Champions event held by Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, Ann Arbor Housing Commission executive director Jennifer Hall was honored as the 2020 Public Policy Champion. Hall led the $65 million public-private redevelopment of Ann Arbor’s public housing complexes, adding 58 new apartments and dedicating over 25% of these units to individuals experiencing homelessness.

Last issue, we noted U-M and EMU’s plans for the fall semester. We should have included Washtenaw Community College’s fall plans as well. In a letter to the community posted June 26, WCC president Rose Bellanca described a fall schedule where most classes will be online, though classes with a lab component will be offered in a hybrid format. Separately, WCC announced a tuition freeze for the 2020/2021 academic year.

The Pivot - Camp COVID

By Trilby MacDonald

Ypsilanti high school students Adi Orlyanchik and Anusha Gupta teamed up to create Camp COVID, a free online summer camp with creative, educational, and movement classes for kids ages five to ten. The dynamic duo are working with twenty five teenage camp counselors who are teaching over forty fun and interactive classes per week to hundreds of campers throughout the summer. Click here for the full story. 
Left: camper with projects from the "Hands on fun - Rainbows!" class, courtesy of Camp COVID. Right: Adi Orlyanchik and Anusha Gupta, co-founders of Camp COVID.

Neighborhood Nonprofit - Growing Hope

By Maggie McMillin

“We’re not just a gardening organization,” says Growing Hope assistant director Erica Bloom. “We’re trying to get to the roots of health disparities in our county and in Ypsilanti.” Click here for the full story. 
Growing Hope’s Ypsi Area Online Market (a collaboration with the Farm at St. Joe’s and Zilke Farm Kitchen) allows residents to order local food online and pick it up in no-contact or low-contact environments.


By Ella Bourland & Maggie McMillin

Friday: Experiment with color mixing (noon) with Leslie Science Center’s kid-friendly online programming, then stream a documentary, feature or short at home from Nevertheless Film Festival (all weekend). This year’s lineup features 26 films, all made by women.

Saturday:  Join Running Fit’s 3–8 mile group run (8 a.m.) and watch livestream storytelling by Brazilian-born Antonio Rocha (7 p.m.), whose performances blend folktales, mime, and social justice stories based on his experiences as an immigrant.

SundayStop by Rerun Records’ record & CD show (10 a.m.–4 p.m.) to buy rare, collectible, and hard-to-find new releases in every popular music genre. 

See our online calendar for more information about local events.

The Helpers

By Ella Bourland

Since mid-March, the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation has distributed $1.3 million in grants and a quarter million dollars in loans to support local nonprofits and other institutions in Washtenaw County responding to Covid-19. Community investment vice president Jillian Rosen emails that they expect to give out $700,000 more this year, “because we know the crisis is not over.” See their website for continually updated details about how to apply, program priorities, and more. 

Melvin Parson of Ypsilanti-based We the People Opportunity Farms was able to shift his farm’s business model in response to Covid-19. Photo credit: Cody Ryan Martell


With help from AAFC and United Way of Washtenaw County, We the People Opportunity Farm’s founder and director Melvin Parson was able to shift his farms’ business model in response to Covid-19. WTPOF’s mission is to break the cycle of incarceration in Washtenaw County by offering formerly incarcerated men and women paid farming and community building internships. Before Covid-19, farm produce was sold to local restaurants. Now, much of it is distributed free to folks in the immediate neighborhood.

Ann Arbor Pride is inviting local businesses and artists to participate in their virtual silent auction, to run July 27–Aug. 3. “Our hope is that we can help small businesses that have been negatively affected by Covid,” says director Joe Schoch. All proceeds go back to the donating party—though donors can choose to direct a portion or all of their earnings to the Jim Toy Community Center. 

For more news on local businesses and people that are helping the community, click here.

Play On

By Stephanie Sorter

Local choreographer and retired University of Michigan dance professor Peter Sparling has been making dance videos inspired by the pandemic. He created the eclectic pieces, which combine images of himself dancing against a green screen with found footage, “to feel less isolated, useless and helpless, and to channel my rage.” Click here for the full story. 

Peter Sparling layers multiple images of himself dancing for his video “Railroad Story.” Photo: Peter Sparling
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