Dakarai Carter and Kamaria Gray at the Detroit Hoodstead. Courtesy photo
Kamaria Gray had been, in her words, “kidding herself a little bit.” A couple years ago, the born-and-raised Detroiter was living in Midtown while working at a nonprofit, but didn’t feel like she was being true to herself.
“They would use words like ‘transformative,’ but when you showed up as yourself, an actual Black person, they’d say you’re too loud or too aggressive,” she said. “I was holding back myself.”
Gray eventually realized those judgements were affecting how she viewed herself and the city around her. She decided that for her, transformation meant leaving the nonprofit world to start a new, more independent life based around farming and sustainability. That’s what she and her partner, Dakarai Carter, did when they bought a house last year in Osborn just off Gratiot Avenue that seemed too good to be true.
For starters, the house sits on a one-acre triple lot with lots of land to grow produce and raise livestock. It’s even got a greenhouse and sunroom to grow more plants indoors.
Designed by an architect in the 1940s, it also has an abundance of charming features, like built-in cabinets, a wood-paneled study, gorgeous varied wallpaper in almost every room, doorbell chimes, brightly tiled bathrooms and, in the backyard, a wood-burning oven and former pond waiting to be filled with water. It most recently was a site for Warriors for the Homeless, which provided temporary housing and counseling for homeless individuals recovering from drug addiction.
With five bedrooms and 2,500 square feet, it’s got plenty of space for a future family and is still in great shape with a sturdy slate roof.
But for Gray and Carter, buying a home was less about finding a new place to live than starting a new kind of life together, through what they call their “Detroit Hoodstead,” a play on the self-sufficiency homesteading lifestyle.
The couple is documenting their experience DIYing on a budget through a blog and Instagram account. Their goal is perhaps best summarized by a quote in one of their posts: “I have yet to come across an account that highlights the realities of owning a home as a Black person in the city of Detroit.”
They share personal news, practical advice on homeownership and updates on renovating their home. Their posts include tips on cleaning a kitchen or improving your credit score, a video on sanding a banister and photos showcasing their home and land.
“Whatever we’re learning, we want to journal about,” Carter said. “Hopefully that can inspire and teach others, too.”
Carter, who grew up on Detroit’s west side, spent some formative years participating in the Detroit Summer program, which was founded by influential activists James and Grace Lee Boggs. The program’s goal is to create a generation of young community activists through sustainable activities like urban gardening, home repair and public art.
“I really got the importance of growing your own food and sharing it with the community,” Carter said.
He currently works as a paraprofessional at the Boggs School, while Gray works in a daycare center.
Their property is just a few blocks away from Gray’s childhood home. When house hunting, she admitted that she was reluctant to move back to her old neighborhood. But ultimately, “it felt purposeful,” she said.
“All that is me,” she added. “I am this. I’m from this. I’m proud of this. We should be allowed to exist as this.”
They’ve got the roots. They’ve got the background. They’ve got the house. Now all they need to do is build out their vision.
Gray and Carter have a lot of ideas for the property. This summer they’re going to plant around a dozen different vegetables and fruits, as well as some sunflowers. Soon they hope to get some chickens and goats — to go along with Larry, their Great Pyrenees dog.
“This first growing season, we’re going to try whatever we can until we have a better idea of what’s good for the soil, what’s good for the community and what’s good for us,” Gray said.
After that, the possibilities are great. They’ll likely have some combination of produce sales and giveaways. Gray wants to plant an orchard. She also loves to cook and bake, so they could have regular food popups. Hosting workshops on any number of subjects, using Detroit Summer as a blueprint, is a possibility.
“There’s so much you can do here,” Gray said, eyeing their land, as if seeing its future as a working farm.
“The sky’s the limit,” Carter added.