Happy speaks—and writes—with a sincerity that is almost anachronistic. He commonly refers, without irony, to miracles. His sleeve bears not only his heart, but also his humor and his joy and his anger. (“That Mike Happy,” his childhood friend Jim Morey puts it, “you know he means it.”) Happy came of age in a time and place where Elks Clubs and Cub Scouts were the norm, and when a neighborhood was distinguished by more than just geography. He spent eight years in the Navy. Community, to him, is not a goal, but an assumption.

For Happy, writing and maintaining Going Home—which he does in addition to his full-time News beat—is equal parts personal catharsis, reportorial documentation, and moral crusade. The blog’s evolving narrative starts with the writer himself. In an early post, Happy describes his emotional return to the neighborhood. His old house, he writes,

was completely gone and the lot was littered with debris—old tires, hubcaps, furniture, clothes. Of the 30 or so houses that made up our end of the block back in the 70’s, about a quarter of them were gone and another quarter of them were boarded up. It looked like the scenes from New Orleans after the levies failed.

The bitterness here is apt. Witnessing the area’s blight firsthand, and meeting the people who live among it, it’s impossible not to feel outrage—even if it’s not your childhood home. Yet outrage in isolation is impotent; and over a tumult of introductory posts rolled out in late August 2007, the blog found a narrative arc that transcends atomized emotion. Happy had two realizations: first, that there are other former residents of the City Airport area who love and miss “the old neighborhood” as much as he does; and second, that those people might be enlisted to work on the neighborhood’s behalf.

He was right, and as more people discovered Going Home, it soon shifted its focus, becoming less about Happy and more about community. Happy enlisted his friend and colleague, Jonathan Morgan, the News’s multiplatform editor, to write the blog with him. He met a community leader named Edith Floyd—“Captain Edith,” he calls her, likening her to “a diminutive U.S. Navy captain of a half-sunken ship”—who became both a friend and someone instrumental to his work in the neighborhood. He introduced readers to other residents, many of whom had moved in right after his family had left. The process was haphazard, as many things blog-related often are, but by September 2007, narrative-building had evolved into coalition-building. Telling the neighborhood’s story had become working to give that story a happier ending. Happy and Morgan had begun advocating for the neighborhood. Loudly. Passionately. And their audience—mostly suburbanites—shouted back.

Comment from: 7561milton
I wanted to add my voice of support for all the work people are doing for the old neighborhood. I joined the service and left Michigan. I recognized some of the names in the blog and just want to say “Hi” to all those working hard at Fletcher Field. Community service is a tough job to do, just want to say, hang in there.
JOE Sokolowski
11/23/07 @ 11:12

Comment from: michael zielinski
Over the years I,ve been through the old neighborhood. And to tell the truth it made me sick to my stomach to see or not see most of the houses in the area. but I don,t want to dwell on the negative.ever since my brother (little joe)called me and told me about this site,i,ve been pooring over the letters and pictures.Thinking about the way the old neighborhood used to look and the great friends I had back then really hits home. thanks so much michael happy great job.and remember you can always go home!!
03/18/08 @ 22:02

Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.