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This Detroit family knows when you don't have what you need, you improvise

Mar 26, 2015

Christina Lumpkin at home with her daughter, Maya and grandson, Jahari.
Credit Zak Rosen / Michigan Radio

Think about most of the news stories you read about kids in Detroit. What comes to mind?

Something about dysfunctional schools? Maybe a crime story?

When’s the last time you felt like a story transported you into the life of a family? Where you really got to know a child? Where you felt what it might be like to be a parent raising kids there?

For our project Bringing Up Detroit, those are exactly the kinds of stories we want to bring you.

And we’re starting today by introducing you to a family on the east side of Detroit. 

You might remember the Lumpkin-Gaston family from a piece I reported last year. Back then, 10-year-old Christopher Gaston was doing pretty great. He was in the third grade, and signed up for just about every activity the school offered (one of them turned him into a published author!) Chris was often at the school from the time the doors opened in the morning until after most of the other students had left for the day. It was a sort of home away from home for Chris, whose dad had recently started a 20-year prison sentence.

Now it’s a year later, and things aren’t going too great at home.

Christopher Gaston interviews his brother Jahari and sister Ahzanae.
Credit Zak Rosen / Michigan Radio

Chris’s mom, Maya Lumpkin, lost her job at McDonald’s, so there’s no money coming in. And things just seem to keep piling on. One night when I visited, Chris’s grandma, Christina Lumpkin (Chris is named after her), was boiling water on the stove so she could wash the dishes. There was no hot water in the house.

“Even though I was raised by a single parent, she always taught us when you don’t have what you need, you improvise,” Lumpkin said as she cleaned her kitchen. ”You use what you got.”

Lumpkin is upbeat. She’s the glue of this family. But she’s also worried that all these factors could soon gather force – and push them out of the house they rent, and out of the neighborhood.

"They love that school. They have a reason to get up in the morning."

“Me and Maya don’t drive, and we don’t have a car,” Lumpkin explains. “So I’m fighting my hardest to stay here so they can stay in that school.”

Christopher and his sister Ahzanae can walk to school now. Lumpkin worries that if they're forced to move, they'll have to switch schools.

“They love that school. They have a reason to get up in the morning.”

Over the coming months, we’ll follow the Lumpkin-Gaston family and a couple of others. We're going to look at the things that are working for families, the things that are broken, and the ways families are making a life in Michigan's biggest and oldest city. 

A year-long series from Zak Rosen and Michigan Radio

*Support for Bringing Up Detroit comes from The Skillman Foundation. Kids matter here.