Panelists look back to ’67 to move forward
La June Montgomery Tabron, president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, was a young girl in 1967 and vividly remembers her family and neighbors hunkering down in the basement of her east-side Detroit home during the rebellion that summer.
Her father turned away one young man who showed up at their Cadillac Boulevard home with a television under his arm.
“He told him, ‘You guys better be careful. If you’re out there on the street, you better be helping people and not looting and picking up TVs,’” she recalled.
Shortly after the events of that summer, her neighbors, who were white, informed her family that they would be moving from the neighborhood. She never again saw her two close friends with whom she had played every day.
Montgomery Tabron shared those memories Monday during a meeting titled “Detroit ’67: Looking Back to Move Forward” that was hosted by the Detroit Economic Club at MotorCity Casino Hotel.
Diversity, economic inclusion and engaging the leaders of the future were the focus as the group commemorated the 50-year anniversary of the tumultuous summer of 1967. Joining in the discussion were Wright Lassiter III, president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System, and Tim Ryan, U.S. chairman and senior partner at PwC.
Montgomery Tabron said there has been a decline in employment opportunities for Detroit residents since the 1970s. However, she does believe that the city can turn around in less than 20 years with the right mindset and passion. One way this can be done is through development of small businesses in neighborhoods, she said.
“To me, coming back means coming back in every neighborhood, in every family and every child in the city of Detroit, and not forgetting those people who stuck it out here through the worst of times and making sure they are a part of the new beginning,” she said.
Lassiter, an Alabama native, said he’s surprised at what he’s seeing so far, and believes there will be a comeback.
“I continue to be amazed at the progress that’s being made,” he said. “I’m not naive to the amount that is still to go, but I do think we’re in a very pivotal moment. There is a cacophony of forces coming together. Individual, business, foundation, etc., there’s a huge wave of forces coming together.”
A commitment from company leaders to foster diversity in the workplace plays an important role, said Ryan, who is also chairman of CEO Action For Diversity & Inclusion, a pledge signed by more than 175 chief executive officers that outlines actions companies can take to advance diversity and inclusion.
Ryan said the city of Detroit can be used as a model for other cities.
“When I look at cities like Detroit, you have incredible talent, and incredible leaders both from the civic perspective and business,” he said. “The next generation, they don’t look at this as a challenge or problem. They look at a major opportunity. Our challenge as leaders is to give them that opportunity, give them the platform to go succeed.”