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Forum examines diversity, inclusion in Detroit

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Detroit — The temperatures outside were stuck in the single digits Friday night but several dozen gathered inside the Rosedale Baptist Church warmed themselves with roasted chicken, fellowship and a sometimes lively exchange on what kind of Detroit they see today and imagine for tomorrow.

The event — dubbed the First Friday Forum — is part of an ongoing series of events sponsored by the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion.

The Michigan Roundtable is one of the oldest human rights organizations in Detroit, going back to before the 1943 race riot. Over the years it expanded from being an organization largely confined to building bridges between Catholics, Protestants, and Jews to one embracing more diverse and inclusive interests.

“It’s important to gather and have discussions like this to involve everyone in a dialogue towards improving life and mutual understanding in the area,” said Yusef Bunchy Shakur, co-director of programs for the roundtable.

Shakur moderated Friday’s forum panel which included Rosedale Baptist Pastor Haman Cross, Jr; Jessica Best, a master’s candidate in social work at Wayne State University; Freda Sampson of a Detroit theological research organization; and Calvin Moore, a Roseville resident who describes himself as a historian who runs tours of Detroit and the weekly podcast “Leading Questions” exploring various social issues.

Topics touched on Friday included views on the cause of poor race relations in Metro Detroit, beginning with white flight to the suburbs.

But Shakur and others decried a history of systemic racism that predates civil unrest and continues to undermine progress in Detroit.

Feelings flashed at the forum when some expressed the opinion that religion — specifically church — does not have as much impact with younger Detroiters as it once did in neighborhoods. That brought a table-banging response from Cross that “people want faith. People want water. The world still wants hope.”

While they may have differed on approach to seeking diversity and inclusion in society, there seemed agreement that for the region to move forward it is essential to involve all ages, gender, races, religions, and cultures in the mix and diversity should be celebrated.

“We don’t always agree on the best ways to get things done but isn’t that the goal, working together?” posed Cross, who established his church 37 years ago. “We need to move forward not spend our time looking back.”

Best, a white suburbanite, said until she first heard anger expressed by others during university studies she never even considered the need for diversity.

“If there is going to be change it has to start at a personal level or in the community before reaching to the government or state,” said Moore. “…Everyone in the world can work to do something to make the world they want to see.”

Bill Meyer, a Hamtramck musician and member of One Hamtramck, an independent group which sponsors events to build understanding between people of different cultures, said he always makes a point of attending First Friday Forums.

“I really like the discussion and exchange of ideas,” said Meyer. “It’s important for us to get to know each other more and the common problems we face.”


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