Tensions were high in Detroit when a grocery store owner and two teenagers were killed in 1980. Then-Detroit Mayor Coleman Young called business leaders into his office, and challenged them to do something to keep young people out of trouble and ease the problems between retailers and the city’s youth. Ed Deeb was in that meeting. He founded the Michigan Food and Beverage Association. Deeb accepted Young’s challenge, and organized an event on Belle Isle. Since then, Metro Detroit Youth Day has become an annual rite of summer for thousands of kids across the city and the region. Deeb, who coached football at Eastern High School, says Belle Isle was a natural choice.
“We didn’t have a practice field for football. We came here to practice,” Deeb says. “So when they said, ‘where are we going to have this event?’, I said, ‘well, the only thing I could think of is the athletic field at Belle Isle. Nobody’s using it, and we practice there’—so we got the permission to have our first one there, and we did.”
Deeb was disappointed with the turnout for the first Youth Day, which drew about 1,200 people and a few local celebrities. It’s where a young Bruce Ross met his idol, Detroit Lions Hall of Famer Lem Barney. But Ross says Barney didn’t talk to him about football. Instead, he had message for Ross.
“You need to go to college. Make something of yourself,” Ross recalls. “So, Metro Detroit Youth Day has been more than just a fun event, it’s been an event that has reached out to me, have a college education.”
Ross earned his degree from Wayne State University and now works with Ed Deeb as a Youth Day board member. Education is a key component of Youth Day, which has presented more than 2,000 scholarships to young Metro Detroiters since its inception.
Bruce Ross watched as city and state officials honored Deeb on July 6, 2018. From now on, Vista Avenue will be known as Edward Deeb Avenue. A new, bright blue sign bearing Deeb’s name now overlooks the athletic fields where the event has been held from the beginning. Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones says it’s a fitting tribute.
“And he can know that he has been appreciated, is still appreciated,” Jones says.
Ed Deeb says he expects the 2018 Metro Detroit Youth Day to attract about 40,000 people to Belle Isle, which is now a state park managed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Deeb says he’s noticed the difference the DNR has made working with the Belle Isle Conservancy to improve the island for everyone.
“What they’ve done and what the conservancy has done,” Deeb says. “This is a new Belle Isle, and it’s going to get better than ever, and I’m just pleased to be part of it.”
Edward Deeb Avenue ensures he’ll be a part of Belle Isle for this Youth Day and many more to come.