Community Driven: School of Social Work professor honored with Lisa Robinson Community Research Award

Wayne State University’s School of Social Work Professor and Associate Dean for Research, Richard Smith, is no stranger to garnering national honors and awards for his work. However, he recently received the Lisa Robinson Community Research Award from Hope Village Revitalization, a nonprofit resident-driven organization that serves a 100-block area called Hope Village in Detroit. The neighborhood is roughly one-square-mile and home to around 5,000 people, predominantly African Americans.

Richard Smith smiling“The committee agreed that your long standing and unwavering commitment is very much appreciated. On behalf of the committee and the Hope Village community, I would like to thank you for all that you have done, do, and will do in the future,” said Julie Rice, assistant director and market manager.

“Dr. Rick Smith has been a staunch supporter for some years. He stepped into the Urban Learning and Leadership Collaborative (ULLC) role as representative of the Center for Social Work Research originally held by Joanne Sobeck. Focus: HOPE convened the Collaborative to vet parties interested in bringing research and other resources to Hope Village community. He has been instrumental in bring together those who are seeking to do research and the needs of the residents,” Rice noted.

In addition to his ULLC role, Smith serves on the Hope Village Collaborative, a monthly convening of organizations in the neighborhood.

Smith helped bring the project Water and Health Infrastructure, Resilience and Learning (WHIRL), to the Hope Village. This team studied the quality of the community’s drinking water, how we can make drinking water and public health stronger for our future, and ways to warn people about water safety issues and to quickly respond to these issues.

“He also played a co-Principal Investigator role in a project called DSTOPP (Dismantling the Pipeline to Prison), bringing together academic, community organizations, community members, and educators who work with young people in and around Detroit. The goal of the project was to discuss the epidemic within the African American educational system of punitive practices which have led to a high rate of expulsions,” Rice said.

Richard Smith receiving his award
Wayne County Commissioner Irma Clark-Coleman (left) and Hope Village Revitalization Executive Director Jeff Jones (right) presenting Professor Richard Smith (center) with the Lisa Robinson Award.

The Lisa Robinson Community Research Award, established in 2021, is named a long-time Hope Village resident and past president/vice president of the Oakman Boulevard Community Association. She retired after 31 years working at the Third Circuit Court, and was also a member of the ULLC, and the Hope Village Citizens for Health Community group. A beekeeper and member of the Hope Village Farmers Market planning committee, Robinson passed away unexpectedly in 2021.

Like Robinson, Smith is a faithful patron of the Farmers Market, where not only fresh produce is sold, but a variety of entrepreneurs are given an opportunity to sell their products and build their business models.

At the awards ceremony last month, Jeff Jones, Hope Village’s Executive Director, presented Smith with the award, along with Wayne County Commissioner, Irma Clark-Coleman.

“On behalf of Wayne County, thank you for your service to the county,” Clark Coleman said.

Smith continues to find ways to improve the quality of life for Detroit area residents. Working with local community leaders, educators, and organizations, he spearheaded “Recovering from Expected Flooding Under Residential Buildings ” or REFURB, an initiative using technology to improve recovery from and preparation for persistent and increasing severe basement flooding that impacts homes in Eastside Detroit, is one of Smith’s latest projects.

“Two thirds of Detroit homes have flooded in the last five years. Urban basement flooding is a solvable problem where we can use technology for social good.”

Smith said he was honored and flabbergasted when he heard he won the award.

“Lisa Robinson was the preeminent model of a community activist from cleaning up alleys to sweeping out the concrete crusher. It was wonderful working with her as long as I did and others at Hope Village. I am so glad that we were able to present together at the Society for Community Research and Action in Chicago, Illinois, and help launch DSTOPP together. She helped shape key aspects of DSTOPP, including the wisdom to know that the residents of Hope Village have expertise to share with other neighborhoods,” This legacy continues with Citizenship for Health III. Indeed, it was in the Hope Village, perhaps at one of Pasha Ellis's impromptu Love Festivals, that I learned that the key to success in life is love,” Smith said.

Author: Laura Hipshire; Editor: Betsy Vanderstelt

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