Air date: March 6, 2014
More than forty years ago, Toni Mcilwain was homeless, having run away from an abusive violent husband. Toni: I ended up in this abandoned home with these 4 babies I walked around the alley in the dumpster and thought maybe I could find them some food and wipe it off and this big rat jumps out and this big rat looks at me like ah ha I got the food before you got it and I am saying to myself that rat is smarter than I am and that is how I felt So I dropped down to my knees I said Lord if you would just open up a door for me just show me how to get there I will give back the rest of my life. And she has. After finding a job in a laundry, she put herself back to school, and became one of Detroit’s most beloved neighborhood activists, running programs to help others for over 30 years, programs desperately needed in her hard hit community of Ravendale. Toni: 85% are at or below the poverty level and all we want to do is give them an opportunity to move their lives forward. Toni helped hundreds of dropouts get back on an educational track, ran block programs, computer classes. She chased funding, calling herself a professional beggar. But recently, the funding dried up and her center closed. Toni: If you’d seen the tears of the people that said Toni you can’t close up but I mean if you can’t keep your lights on and you can’t keep your gas on. Mitch Albom: But that just became too difficult? Toni: I just closed in December. The good news is, a new building has been offered, even bigger. At so at age 66… Mitch Albom: Are you going to be a professional beggar again? Toni: I am going to be a professional beggar Mitch Albom: Are you doing it with us right now? Toni: Yes I am (laughing) Someone like Toni could have straightened out and never looked back. Instead, she never forgot her promise in that alley. Toni: I know they felt like I do that the rats are smarter than they are… I don’t want anybody else to feel like that. Giving over three decades of community service — and looking to continue, Toni McIlwain just needs a little help to keep pumping the heart of Detroit.