Mama Shu Honors Her Son’s Legacy by Changing Lives Each Day

(Mama Shu is shown pictured above in the middle.  Photo Courtesy of The Avalon Village Facebook Page)

In 2007, Shamayim Harris’s life would change forever. On September 23, her two-year-old son was killed by a hit-and-run driver. Since then, she has been a strong voice for activism in Detroit, throughout her state, and nationally.

Fondly known as “Mama Shu,” she has been nominated for the CNN Heroes Award, which recognizes people who make extraordinary contributions to help the lives of others in their communities. As one of the Top 10 finalists, she receives $10,000. [1]

The person who becomes the CNN Hero of the Year receives an additional $100,000 to continue their work.

The Avalon Village Started with a $3,000 Purchase

Harris grew up in Detroit’s Highland Park neighborhood. Even as the buildings became vacant and trash started to cover the streets, she refused to leave. It was home, and that was where she wanted to raise her family. [2]

After losing her son, Harris wanted to make the neighborhood safer for every child. She purchased one of the abandoned buildings for just $3,000, then transformed it into her ministry called The Avalon Village. [3]

A park dedicated to her son is nearby, allowing her to always be close to him while helping so many others.

Since then, Mama Shu has assembled a team of artists, urban farmers, futurists, engineers, and volunteers to revitalize Highland Park. Purchasing one lot at a time, The Avalon Village now has over 40 parcels that provide after-school learning opportunities, holistic healing centers, greenhouses, and more. [4]

It is a complete and sustainable eco-village and it often hosts community events that help people come together and feel they have a place they belong to.


Here Are the Key Elements of The Avalon Village

The Avalon Village is a grassroots movement that relies on community involvement, volunteer efforts, and crowdfunding. It employs sustainable practices, like solar power and the use of recycled materials in building and refurbishing structures.

Several critical elements have become part of the community to help families build a better life for themselves. Here is a look at four of the most popular components.

  • The Imhotep STEAM Lab. Located in a recycled shipping container, this area provides direct access to science, technology, mathematics, and other innovative thinking opportunities.
  • The Goddess Marketplace. Local artists and entrepreneurs have a space to sell their goods or services to the neighborhood in this area.
  • Homework House. It is a safe space for children to receive after-school tutoring and nourishment.
  • Green Spaces and Gardens. The Avalon Village offers dedicated areas for urban agriculture and greenery, providing fresh produce while beautifying the neighborhood.

Through these efforts, Mama Shu offers a powerful example of how local citizens can come together to create positive change from within their community, reflecting a new model for urban renewal that could be replicated in other cities facing similar challenges.

The Goal Is To Turn Pain and Grief into Power

“You can live with a broken heart,” says Mama Shu, “but it doesn’t have to break your spirit.” She describes losing her son as a moment she couldn’t survive.

“When I woke up the next morning, I knew that I was invincible because my worst fear had been realized, and I was still here.”

Then another tragedy occurred as her 23-year-old son Chinyelu was murdered. He was the right-hand man, helping to grow The Avalon Village into the vision Mama Shu had to restore her community.

Children are, and always will be the heartbeat of the project. Programming is offered throughout the year to foster a love for learning, creating, and community service.

Various classes, ranging from emotional regulation to learning how to play chess, are available in the community. There is even a young men’s circle that works to teach learning strategies to manage life’s lessons that come along.

The final blighted home was recently removed from The Avalon Village to create more space for an urban farm with help from the Ford Foundation.

Just because she lost both her sons on the same street doesn’t mean that Mama Shu has lost her faith in the community. If anything, her resolve is the foundation where an entire generation of growth opportunities is beginning.

“Removing blight removes old memories, old energy, all of that. And now we can replace it with something beautiful,” said Mama Shu. “That’s what you’ve got to do. Get rid of something old to make room for the new.”

Every step counts. Even small efforts add up to something. If you keep pushing forward despite adversity, there could be incredible results waiting for you on the other side. [5]

The 2023 CNN Hero of the Year voting continues through December 10.  If you’d like to vote for Mama Shu you can do so by clicking the link here: https://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/cnn.heroes/vote/10/



[1] https://www.axios.com/local/detroit/2023/11/07/mama-shu-nominated-hero-of-the-year-award-cnn

[2] https://roadtripnation.com/leader/mama-shu

[3] https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/wayne-county/2023/11/06/mama-shu-highland-park-cnn-heroes-2023/71476097007/

[4] https://www.fox2detroit.com/video/1308324

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HbsAW3yYQ0