Panel: Detroit must be inclusive to move forward

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Post-bankrupt Detroit continues to rise, but city leaders reflecting Thursday on the city’s civil unrest of 1967 agree opportunities and inclusion are still lagging.

The city’s neighborhoods have long felt disparity when it comes to jobs and development. It’s an area that must continue to be addressed, said the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the NAACP Detroit branch.

“The challenge for us is what do we do in the neighborhoods,” Anthony said during a panel discussion at the Mackinac Policy Conference. “What do we do to make economic opportunity more palpable and accessible?”

Anthony raised the question during a session titled “Detroit: An Opportunity for Inclusion and Economic Prosperity,” which focused on the impact and lessons learned from the riots nearly 49 years ago.

Anthony joined other panelists who lauded the city’s growth and development, saying “there’s no question” that great things are happening in Detroit.

“The real test is the inclusiveness of all of its citizens,” he added. “You can’t build a moat around downtown Detroit.”

Sebastian Jackson, founder of The Social Club Grooming Co., established his barbershop near Wayne State University with hopes of creating a community hub.

“We’re able to break some barriers in a non-invasive way. We need to put more places like this that really breed culture,” said Jackson, who noted he employs a diverse mix of staff. “Having conversations in those places can lead to more barriers being broken. I think that’s what the future is like for us.”

Jackson said some businesses popping up in Detroit intimidate residents and make them feel “that we don’t belong almost.”

The discussion was spurred by a project being developed by the Detroit Historical Society “Detroit 67: Looking Back to Move Forward” that examines what happened in the past and encourages a future of opportunity.

Former Detroit Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel said the 1967 rebellion stemmed from a lack of job opportunity for minorities and a “racist” police department that was out of control.

Under Mayor Mike Duggan, she said, there’s been a legitimate commitment from the business community to reach beyond the downtown. Corporate leaders get that Detroit’s success doesn’t hinge on only a vibrant downtown and Midtown, she added, noting efforts to reinvent parts of West Village, Brightmoor and other communities.

“This is stuff that hasn’t happened in the past,” she said. “The question now is what keeps it going.”

Anthony on Thursday, meanwhile, argued Detroit children are being “held hostage” by a troubled school system and Flint is a city “where babies are dying,” both based on a lack of effectiveness in state government.

“I don’t look through the Detroit lens of ’67. I look through 2016,” Anthony said. “I look through the lens that sees a lack of access that still needs to be overcome.”