Study: Women of color absent in Detroit’s recovery

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

A report set for release Tuesday contends that women of color have been ignored in the crafting of Detroit’s recovery — and that progress would be more swift were they included.

“The surprise isn’t that women are doing amazing things and making contributions,” said Kimberly Freeman Brown, author of the report from the Institute for Policy Studies of Washington, D.C. What’s noteworthy, she said, is that “they’re absent from much of the narrative about Detroit’s comeback.”

“I Dream Detroit: The Voice and Vision of Women of Color on Detroit’s Future” found that 71 percent of survey respondents in the fall 2016 did not feel included in planning for the city’s future. More jarring on a practical level, only half of the nearly 500 women of color surveyed — 34 percent of whom hold at least one college degree — reported earning a living wage.

Funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, “I Dream Detroit” was compiled across 18 months of focus groups, interviews and analysis. The report from the progressive think tank includes a statistical breakout along with personal accounts from 20 of the women it refers to as “solutionaries,” a term borrowed from the late human rights activist Grace Lee Boggs.

The 20 include high-profile executives such as QLine vice president Sommer Woods, entrepreneurs on the order of Erika Boyd and Kirsten Ussery-Boyd of Detroit Vegan Soul, and a number of community workers and activists.

Khalilah Burt Gaston of the Kellogg Foundation said the report “gives us a glimpse toward understanding (women’s) challenges and their accomplishments,” while recognizing that investing in businesses and nonprofits involving women of color — who represent 91 percent of the women in the city — “can help inform and shape a stronger future for Detroit.”

The report will be introduced Tuesday morning at the Julian C. Madison Building downtown at a program that will feature Brown, Marc Bayard, director of the institute’s Black Worker Initiative, and several of the women highlighted. A tour of two featured nonprofits and the Farmer’s Hand market and cafe in Corktown will follow.

Finding underpublicized success stories was as simple as dialing a few personal contacts and tapping Kellogg’s list of grantees, Brown said. “Imagine what would happen if their models were replicated over and over again across the city.”

The study’s recommendations included capital investment by the city in businesses and nonprofits; meeting spaces for collaboration and support; more involvement by women of color in developmental decision making, and a pipeline for recruitment into leadership positions.

“If the women in our report are able to do so much with so little,” Brown asked, “what could they do if there was greater investment in their work?”

Twitter: @nealrubin_dn