Joshua Smith, 9, and friend Dwayne Durant, 10, left, sell lemonade and popcorn Monday in front of the Smith home in Detroit. Joshua's parents, Rhonda and Flynn, and his brother Nathaniel watch. (KATHLEEN GALLIGAN/Detroit Free Press)
(DETROIT FREE PRESS) -- Nine-year-old Joshua Smith was on his way to piano lessons one day when he heard a radio report about the sorry state of Detroit's finances.
"I heard the city was in crisis because the city is broke and I was really upset," said Joshua, who lives in the Russell Woods neighborhood with his parents, Flynn and Rhonda Smith, and two brothers.
The youngster was so disturbed by the city's prospects, that he was moved to action. He told his parents that he wanted to set up a lemonade stand to help fill the city's coffers.
So 5-8 p.m. each day through Friday, you will find Joshua selling lemonade, fruit punch ("It's organic," he said), water and popcorn ("seasoned with sea salt") at his family home at 4252 Leslie.
"I'm really proud of him; he wasn't asking how can he make money to buy himself something. My wife and I were talking about this earlier -- neither of us ever thought to do anything like this when we were kids," said Flynn Smith, a high school math teacher and associate pastor at Evangel Ministries in Detroit.
Joshua knew things weren't quite right in the city where he and his younger brothers, ages 4 and 2, were born. The grass at the parks near his home is frequently almost as tall as he is (he stands nearly 5-feet), and the water fountains are broken.
His parents, both 43, said that when Joshua first told them about his lemonade plan, they were impressed. But they decided not to tell Joshua that they thought a lemonade sale, no matter how successful, would hardly put a dent in the city's deficit, which is in excess of $100 million.
"He's always been a conscientious child about what's going on around him, and we want to encourage him with whatever he wants to do as long as it's positive and God-honoring," said Rhonda Smith, a freelance writer.
Joshua's parents jumped on board with their son's plan. They expanded the menu, invested close to $100 for the food items, and helped Joshua pop the corn that he and buddy, Dwayne Durant, 10, of Redford Township packaged for sale.
Rhonda Smith posted news of the sale on Facebook, and along with Joshua made flyers distributed in the neighborhood and at a recent jazz festival in Russell Woods.
The flyer says: "May you please help the City of Detroit. Please buy this popcorn and drinks. It's not so expensive. I didn't make it expensive so you would have to spend all your money. The money will help clean up trash on the ground and cut the grass in the parks."
Joshua's goodies range in price from $1 for a bottle of water to $2 for a "big" bag of popcorn.
On Monday, Joshua's first customer was next door neighbor, Robert Rucker, 60. "The city really needs all the help it can get, so I wanted to help out," Rucker said. "Somebody needs to try something; the adults too."
Although it isn't common, donating money to the City of Detroit does not seem like a difficult process. People who want to donate funds must take them to the city teller on the first floor of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center; donated money goes to the general fund unless a department is specified.
Rhonda Smith said she is getting good responses from friends who are spreading the word through Facebook and other social media.
Kim Trent, a childhood friend of hers, posted a notice about Joshua's sale on her Facebook page and heard from friends across the country. That's when she suggested that Smith allow donations through her PayPal account.
"I posted it and my friends posted it. I had friends as far as Oregon asking how they could contribute," said Trent. She stopped to buy popcorn and water on her way home from work.
"I live in Detroit. I'm a native Detroiter. When I heard this I was so touched, first of all by the level of sensitivity. Most 9-year-olds aren't civically engaged enough to know the city is broke, but for him to not only understand it, but want to do something about it, I was just so touched."
Joshua's aunt and uncle, Byron and Sharon Moore of Southfield stopped by Monday with their three children, ages 3-7. Sharon Moore said Joshua's desire to help is typical of his character.
"This baby has been like this since he was little," she said. "I promise you, whenever he'd see a situation, he'd want to do something. I remember him telling his mom about a kid being bullied. His mom asked what he did, he said he prayed for the bully and the kid being bullied and he told the bully, 'You shouldn't say that.' ''
Rhonda Smith said she hopes Joshua can donate the money with the assurance that it will go to the recreation department to cut grass or improve the parks.
Joshua said that he also wants to send a letter to Mayor Dave Bing with the money that he raises. On Monday afternoon, he dictated what the letter would say:
"Dear Mr. Mayor, I'm sending this money because I hear the city is broke and I'm hoping to raise $1,000 or more so we can have lots of money, so we can cut grass and fix the water fountains in the park."
He was slowly on the way to his goal Monday. A few hours into the sale, Joshua had made $69.
More Details: How to donate
Joshua Smith's Lemonade Stand is being held 5-8 p.m. daily through Friday. Find it at 4252 Leslie, Detroit 48238.
PayPal donations accepted via www.musingsofastrongblack woman.com. For info, call 313-715-5510 or e-mail rhondajsmith @rhondajsmith.com.