Idlewild gets jazzy during homecoming

IDLEWILD — John Meeks wanted to create an event which brought all the positives of Idlewild together.

After several years of planning and hard work, Saturday’s Idlewild Homecoming started, with five jazz performers and at least 500 individuals coming to watch.

“Idlewild, in 100 years, has never had a homecoming where everybody comes back, rub shoulders, breaks bread, has a drink, listens to good live entertainment and has a lot of good fun,” Meeks said.

Meeks, president of the Idlewild African-American Chamber of Commerce, started working on creating a private park in the heart of community, with park benches for sitting, room for vendors and a stage for performers.

“The community is donating and support for this 100 percent,” he said. “We had a bus load of people come up from Detroit, this was well-advertised.”

The chamber paid for the entertainment and equipment and accepted donations for the event.

Melvin Hayes, of Chicago, regularly travels to Idlewild. As someone who grew up in the area in the 50s, he enjoys seeing a resurgence in the community.

“In the early 50s, Idlewild was the place to be,” he said. “(The homecoming event) is a step in the right direction.

“Is it going to catch on? We don’t really know. That’s going to go by word of mouth.”

It even brought out someone who had only heard about Idlewild through family history.

Christine Daenzer, of Grand Rapids, is the great-great-granddaughter of E.G. Branch, a white man who helped start the African American resort community of Idlewild. She came to the Saturday event on a whim.

“I decided I’ve never been here and there is a festival, let’s do it,” she said. “I’m impressed.”

As she drove through the community she recognized several old businesses from photos.

Yates Township Supervisor Ronald Griffin said the event shines a spotlight on the community and he wants to see it continue.

“We’re trying to get people to come back up here, invest in the community and buy property,” he said.

Before the beginning of the event, performers had already told Meeks they want to be involved in next year’s event. He already has started planning.

“It will be two days next year,” Meeks said.