Detroiter Margaret England is living proof that you don’t have to have 20/20 vision to see the good in yourself or others.
And how, with steadfast perseverance, a big dose of moxie, a little help from your friends and a Hula-Hoop, you can do great things.
The spunky 73-year-old has faced challenges, literally, since birth. But none of it has stopped her from overcoming them all — even if she has to do it a little slower than others — in her own personal effort to help improve the lives of others, especially the children.
England likes to stay busy and involved. And that means keeping her body and mind sharp. Which is why, at least two to three times a week, she can be found at a playfield named after a Detroit legend who was once regarded as the fastest human in the world. But England is never in a rush.
In fact, when she uses the public exercise equipment at Tolan Playfield on Mack and the I-75 service drive in Midtown, she often requires at least two hours to get through her entire routine.
“It’s perfect because I can do a complete workout over there,” said England, of the exercise stations she discovered in 2020 at the city park named after Cass Tech’s own Thomas Edward (Eddie) Tolan, who won gold on the track in the 100 and 200 meters at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. “The equipment covers everything. You can even do rowing and squats. It’s all there and you control it because you’re working with your own body.”
Working with her own body has actually presented challenges for England throughout her life. England tells it this way — as it was told to her by her mother: She was “born with no slits for her eyelids.” And by the time her “eyelids were (surgically) made,” England was 8 or 9 months old. She was left with extremely crossed eyes that were not improved despite several surgeries during her childhood. And her right eye remains considerably weaker than her left eye.
Nonetheless, the condition did not prevent England from achieving academically, as her degrees attest: a bachelor’s degree in nursing; master’s degrees in clinical psychology and psychiatric nursing; and a Ph.D. in nursing science. And with her knowledge, England later taught and published her research as a college professor, which included stints at Wayne State University and the University of Windsor. But as her vision continued to deteriorate through the years, England said it became increasingly difficult to hold on to her teaching positions for reasons out of her control. She uses words like “discrimination” and “forced out” to describe the circumstances she faced.
In 2005, after a 30-year professional career which spanned five states and the province of Ontario, Canada, England, a self-described “people person,” said some of the folks she had to deal with to maintain employment had her feeling “run down.” It was then that she retired from teaching and ultimately turned her attention to improving her health, while embarking on a nearly decade-long quest to help Detroit youths in need. And through it all, she has gained an even greater appreciation for the city that first welcomed her from Cleveland in 1990.
“I came to Detroit cold. I knew nothing about things like jazz or soul food, or even white privilege. But I make it my business to get to know people and now I feel that I fit in, so I could never stop doing stuff,” explained England, who was born in Oakland, California. In England’s world, “stuff” includes walking 15 miles a week and doing exercises, like Hula-Hooping, in addition to her two-hour workouts at Tolan Playfield.
“For me, exercise is the best antidote for depression,” said England, who came upon the Tolan Playfield exercise area after she was cut off from the exercise room and many friends at St. Patrick Senior Center during the pandemic. Today, England tips the scale at about 175 pounds, down from the 245 pounds she weighed when she made the decision to unburden herself from a load of stress back in 2005.
And England’s weight loss has coincided with gains in other areas connected to her perception of Detroit.
Having never driven in a town famously known as the “Motor City,” because of her impaired vision, England has developed what she calls her own special superpower. She has an ability to form deep connections with the people and things she comes into close contact with during her walks across the city, even though she may not be able to see those objects clearly.
For example, England is intensely attracted to old Detroit homes, including homes located in the Brush Park Historic District (consisting of Alfred, Edmond and Watson streets and stretching from Brush to John R), an area once known as “Little Paris” for its large homes resembling mansions.
These homes and other stately Detroit landmarks that England has cast her sights on from ground level during her walks cause the academic researcher within her to resurface, which leads her to her home computer or the main branch of the Detroit Public Library, where she tirelessly researches the history of the jewels she uncovers.
One day, England says she would like to present an exhibit for her community near her condo at Mack and Woodward, to share her findings about old Detroit homes and other history about the city going as far back as the 1600s.
But in the meantime, England has current community work that she must continue, which she hopes will positively impact the future.
Just as her walks have put her in touch with Detroit’s beauty, England says she also sees — in her own way — how poverty devastates so many lives that literally cross her path each day. England shows her concern through her actions. And for the past nine years, she has conducted her own “campaign,” which has provided items like clothes, shoes, blankets, sleeping bags, and in 2020, tablet computers, to Detroit youths in need.
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