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Everyday Heroes: DeMicha Luster

The Urban Advocate

DeMicha Luster’s community organizing work began unexpectedly.

“I was doing some work for a local non-profit when someone asked me why they hadn’t seen me at any of the NPU [Neighborhood Planning Unit] or civic association meetings,” she said. “I took the hint and started attending.”

Eventually, people noticed she was the only person under 30 attending the meetings. That made her the ideal candidate to organize a potential field trip.

“Someone donated passes to Six Flags, and so, it was suggested that I take 35 kids from the community,” she added.

All she had to do was figure out how to get the kids there. And, of course, get their parents’ permission.

Credit: Photo Courtesy of DeMicha Luster

Credit: Photo Courtesy of DeMicha Luster

For many kids, taking a trip to Six Flags is a treat. But funding and transportation for kids of a certain age and socio-economic background can be challenging. Then there is another issue altogether – trust. Many of the kids didn’t know her or their parents. She was a stranger and had some convincing to do.

It took her three weeks.

“I wrote up a permission form and walked up and down the street, knocking on doors every day after work. The next week, I knocked on those same doors, re-introducing myself,” she said. “And the next week, the same thing.”

She also started hanging out with the kids on the block.

“They got to know my face,” she said. “It taught people in the community that I was willing to go the extra mile. And for people to feel comfortable with sending their kids with me, that meant a lot.”

That quickly turned into other opportunities, and led her to create the Urban Advocate – a small, grassroots organization in the business of changing and shaping lives. Their work aims to develop a layered approach to solving some of the biggest challenges impacting Black communities by examining community gaps and barriers.

“My work is committed to the liberation of Black people. I don’t believe anyone is free until Black people are free,” she said. “We deserve the freedom and the same liberation as anyone else.”

Two things she is proudest of — being a Black woman and being a native Atlantan. Both identities are at the core of her work as a problem solver, strategist, community connector, and gun-related violence fighter.

Gun-related violence has been a large portion of her work since 2012. She took notice of the impact the issue was having on kids in the area.

“The way people experience violence here in Mechanicsville may not work in the [next] community,” she said. “I got tired of regional and Census data being used to look at community trends.”

Taking matters into her own hands, she created a community survey. The survey asked community members about their experience with gun-related violence. But they weren’t the only ones she surveyed.

“Those who commit gun-related violence are just as important, so we asked them as well,” she said. “We are always asking the victims, but we never ask the perpetrators how they became a perpetrator and why. It’s important to know what’s going on and what other factors, like adverse poverty, also impact gun-related violence.”

And that’s where the inspiration for the 1300-foot mural near the Dunbar Neighborhood Center between Fulton Street and Richardson Street originated. They took the voices of the community and translated them into art, turning pain, fears, concerns, and doubts into colors that inspire and encourage.

“This is not a game,” she said. “We are with it. I want Black people to feel they deserve better. And we do. We deserve better.”

HOW TO HELP

To learn more or to donate, visit https://www.theurbanadvocate.org/.


WE’RE STRONGER TOGETHER: A SPECIAL PROJECT

This place we call home is filled with ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary feats. Their selfless acts make this region so special – and they bring out the best in all of us. With the holidays upon us, we wanted to share their inspiring stories, celebrate their accomplishments, and offer ways that you can help.

Just as the 55 people we’re profiling can’t do it alone, nor can we. That’s why we worked closely with our partners to bring you this collection of uplifting stories.

We hope they leave you feeling inspired and ready to tackle the busy new year that lies ahead. We hope they make you feel more connected to your community or to your neighbors.

And maybe, just maybe, they will motivate you to come up with your own small way to make a big difference in the lives of others.

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