Venita Thompkins


Venita Thompkins


In this interview, Venita discusses her experiences while growing up in Virginia Park District and how over time, things have changed. She talks a lot about how her community has come together as a cohesive unit to achieve goals set make her community as well as its people more progressive and unified.


Detroit Historical Society


Detroit Historical Society



Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Venita Thompkins

Brief Biography

Venita Thompkins was born in the year of 1963, in Detroit, Michigan. She grew up in Virginia Park District, where she still currently resides. Thompkins is a staunch advocate for her communtiy.

Interviewer's Name

Allie Felsner

Interview Place

Detroit, MI



Interview Length



Allie Felsner


AF: “Alright, where were you born?”

VT: “Detroit, Michigan”

AF: “When was that?”

VT: “…1963”

AF: “inaudible”

AF: “What neighborhood did you grow up in?”

VT: “Virginia Park District which has boundaries between West Grand Boulevard, John C Lodge, Lim Wood western Lim Wood and North of Claremont Formally off of Twelfth street.”

AF: “What was it like?”

VT: “Growing up in … Virginia Park District has been a …, cause I’m still there, Right, growing up just like I would say in most neighborhoods but growing up in Virginia Park was … a big community a community of grass root individuals out of the civil rights movement so you had … very progressive, neighbors and elders of wanting to push for change and improvement on the community.”

AF: “Okay ... was it an integrated neighborhood?”

VT: “After 67, after 68,69 my block, no, it was majority African American.”

AF: “Okay”

VT: “From formally it was a Jewish Community, and then …due to urban renewal from Hasting Street, where most businesses were African Americans were... residents due to red lining and housing, African Americans did not live, west of Woodward avenue.”

AF: “What do you mean by red lining?”

VT: “Red lining meaning that they were …defined in boundaries, because you couldn’t buy housing on 8 Mile, red lining meaning that most realtors wouldn’t sell to African Americans.”

AF: “Okay … where did your parents work?”

VT: “My father worked at Chrysler, he did two jobs, he worked at Chrysler and ... in the city of Detroit.”

[AF] “What did you do for fun?”

VT: “What did I do for fun?”

AF: * Giggles *

VT: “Growing up I always played on the playground, swing, played hopscotch, … two squares, taking a ball, taking a brick, and making your own chalk, to make hop scotch … kickball, tag, let’s see what else, I guess in the end playing dress up, yeah dress up.”

AF: * Giggles * “… where did you go shopping?”

VT: “…some places of going shopping was Downtown Detroit, most went to Hutson’s, I prefer Learners because I could go and make my affordable price because I had my own little allowance, so I was able to go and have money at a young age.”

AF: “Where did you go to school?”

VT: “… I went to Detroit Public Schools, Wayne State, Went to Detroit Public Schools, Virginia Pharrell, Cosmetology school at Wayne State University.”

AF: “Tell us a little about your school?”

VT: “… my earliest schools and High schools … Elementary School the teachers used to … Very impactful making impressions and great role models to the extent of some of their values that were distilled in me, I am still carrying, they have contributed to my character as well as my parents. My parents were my first teachers. And then my academic teachers were next.”

AF: “Okay, are there any stories from your childhood about your neighborhood that you would like to share?”

VT: “Yes, … Virginia Park District was as I mentioned besides being a progressive neighborhood meaning that the neighbors, our neighborhood …was the first community based shopping center that was created in the United States of America. And it was by the residents, the grass roots, the neighbors, that … they decided after change had taken place in their community that they were going to rebuild. So you had your …neighbors like …Joseph Walker Williams it was the director of the unemployment commission, you had … Mr. Reed, he was a school teacher of Detroit Public Schools, you had those that may have been appointed in the city of Detroit and there might have been other teachers, teacher aids, she had those, were secretary’s and they raised money to contribute to offset the balance that was a deficit so they could continue to build the Virginia Park Shopping District, and the shopping plaza exists today. Okay, of the inaudible, it ranges from the inaudible to inaudible of Rosa parks boulevard formally 12th Street.”

AF: “That’s awesome, did you venture around the city growing up or did you tend to stay around your neighborhood?”

VT: “…, Both… I really enjoyed … my neighborhood because in Virginia Park District it was centrally located in the city, you could get to anywhere in 15 minutes Inaudible, less down town, but anywhere if you’re going to Southfield …Twelve Oaks, anywhere East to West North to South, 15 minutes’ access. Freeway, using the freeway of course, but … one area that I used to enjoy doing was being able to walk up to the fisher building theatre. Because they have the underground tunnel between the Fisher Theatre and formally used to be the General Motors building which is now the Cadillac building and you could go from the Inaudible Building and you can go underground.”

AF: “That is awesome I did not know that.”
AF: “Did you feel comfortable in the city?”

VT: “Yes. And I felt safe, we happened to be able to go on and walk anywhere but of course with anything you know being raised with look both ways before you cross the street, so probably if anything of any danger at that time would have been more of looking at safety of cars and making sure you cross the street properly. Right, so cause we walked all the time an able to access West Grand Boulevard all the time. Cause which you get .. Which you navigate thru the neighborhood to get to West Grand Boulevard, you know access you know, your different shopping on Woodward Avenue, West Grand Boulevard.

AF: “…what decades did you grow up in, what was it like during the 60s?”

VT: “During the sixties because we did have … different unrest or… it was a lot of change. On our, in that community, there for you had all that immunities’ on Twelfth Street, from West Grand Boulevard up to Claremont that I was able to walk and access of course. You had all types of business that… that was located you didn’t have to go far. Everything was here. EVERYTHING was here. Even maybe you know being younger areas that I wasn’t allowed to go to them but you know everything was there walking up to Hues Restaurant walking up to get some chocolate chip ice-cream with the little small chocolate chip dots, Yeah.”

AF: “… has your neighborhood changed over the years or has it stayed the same?”

VT: “Drastically changed. It went to that lively .., point of being able to going to use the barbeque to the point of having to get into a car in order to go to find some ice cream.”

AF: “… have you ever thought of moving away?”

VT: “Yes, I have moved … in several different places, out of state, in state but I’ve always kept a home house in that community”

AF: “Okay, why was that?”

VT: “There was, it was, it was just home. Just home, a good community, I knew in the future it would be a good investment area, so, right I never had a desire to leave, I wanted to have a home house but I still wanted to venture around the world and see the sunset around the world”.

AF: “Have you ever thought of... I just asked you that”

AF: “Did you stay in the same neighborhood growing up or did you stay in the same neighborhoods?”

VT: “I stayed in the same neighborhood growing up but then when I went to Cosmetology school I moved to my first apartment so I could be closer, I …, to be closer to the school, Virginia Pharrell, …, just I wasn’t driving so I needed to be closer to the school, and then I returned back, I think to the home house, and then I moved around. Then, I wanted, I got to a point where I wanted waterfront living, so I just desired different places maybe in the city maybe where the water was.”

AF: “When someone says the neighborhoods, what does that mean to you?”

VT: “The neighborhood means …, to me, for Virginia Park, home, a community, businesses, love, extensions of families, Entrepreneurship, I would think that the gathering …, of friendship, childhood too, adulthood, the neighborhood. A hood with friendly neighbors. That knew one another. At that time, and if not you go to the point where you knew who their parents where, even when the children cam e along, you would identify them by saying whose child are you? You know, who’s your parents?”

AF: “How do you feel about the state of your neighborhood today?”

VT: “It’s a little it’s, it’s …, right now it’s a little quiet. It’s a quiet space with a lot of change happening, change is happening so fast to the point of …, when you, when you, see a new …, a, a new truck coming down the street it’s like, where are they going? Where are they going to develop? Or you see someone digging in the street, what are they doing? Are they putting in a new pipes? ... you know what is going on because change is happening rapidly in that Virginia Park area.”

AF: “Are there a lot of new neighbors that have moved in?”

VT: “Ah yes, there’s new neighbors, there’s new neighbors, … ah I can tell whose new when my dog barks and I can tell who he sees everyday laughs when he say hi * makes dog barking noises * I mean when he barks and says hi, so it’s becoming more diversified than … it had when I grew up. Matter a fact, it is more diverse in my life time right now.”

AF: “What would you like to see happen in your neighborhood?”

VT: “I would like to enjoy change with … inclusion, meaning that all neighbors being enable to participate and benefit from any change that’s coming.”

AF: “If you could get a project done in your new neighborhood what would it be?”.

VT: “I would do a memorial garden for those hero’s and inaudible that paved the way for that community. And the shoulders that we stand on for that community to benefit and maintain for new development to come. Some say Detroit is… they will look at it for that community that …were bringing back, the neighborhood is coming back but there had to be someone there to sustain it in order for it to be a neighborhood to come to.”

AF: “How do you feel about the state of the city today?”.

VT: “I’m biased. I’m biased because what I didn’t understand in the sixties and what may have contributed to maybe some uncomfortable and unrest in that community and I didn’t understand because I was too little but as an adult I can see how it happened then and how it can happen now.”

AF: “Okay, and …, is there any, big impacts on your neighborhood now, that have like, just occurred or happened in the past couple years that have changed your neighborhood for the better or for the worse?”

VT: “Bias. … the avocation of the land, the land has been purchased, the city has partnered with developers and they have made decisions …between developer and city partners to do future developments and there is limited input with the residents of that community who are directly impacted and being pro, active for development, but I do prefer to have inclusion. If the developer should have access to that land and community residents should have an option as well, they may not be able to afford all of it, but they should be able to have some of it.”

AF: “Is there an organization for your neighborhood? Like an neighborhood council or..”.

VT: “It used to be Virginia council.”

AF: “Yeah? What did they do?”

AF: “Well that ended going thru change and then it ended up being eliminated from the city government perspective, but from the grass roots, there is still individuals who still participate, I am one of them, that… still contribute their time to … participate in meetings of development that’s taken place to be able to have some type of engagement and input. They call it engagement and I wanna, I wanna stay with the input, active input, so that it would be a win, win situation for new residents, and former residents and future residents.”

AF: “Okay.”


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“Venita Thompkins,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed October 1, 2023,

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