In July 1967, Detroit was in the throes of one of the worst race riots in U.S. history.

The culmination of years of racial injustice, police brutality, poor housing, a lack of jobs, and poverty in this predominantly Black neighborhood, the violence left 43 people dead, thousands injured, and catastrophic property damage. 

But the Mom and Tots Neighborhood Center at 9226 Kercheval Street remained untouched.

“This storefront, of all of the buildings around it, did not burn, and was not broken into,” said Nancy Milio, who established the clinic in 1966. “Someone had written ‘soul brother’ on the window, meaning it shouldn’t be touched because it belonged to the people there.”

The Bjoring Center’s Nancy Milio Collection documents this tumultuous period when Milio was a young, white, public health nurse just beginning her career. A Detroit native, Milio was disillusioned by the traditional methods health professionals used that often fell short, and her search for a new paradigm coalesced into plans for a new kind of clinic for mothers and their children in this underserved downtown area.

But she would not impose a model; she wanted it to be run by and for the people of the neighborhood, and relevant to their daily lives. “The project, if it was to be,” recalled Milio, “was to belong to the people it was intended to serve, so they had to struggle to shape it and I with them for a while. Then, it would be theirs.”

With funding from the federal Office of Economic Opportunity, the Mom and Tots Center offered prenatal care, family planning, daycare for preschoolers, cooperative babysitting, transportation help, and sex education for teenage girls.

It became a model for community health work taking place across the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s. As Mom and Tots grew, Milio scaled back her involvement as its director. Several years later, when she stepped away entirely, she knew that her idea—dismissed as impossible, too radical—had indeed succeeded.

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Explore the Bjoring Center's Milio collection.