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As post-bankruptcy Detroit welcomes more development, making sure all residents benefit with affordable housing and jobs is key to extending the city's revitalization, panelists told visiting journalists Tuesday.

“We have to do a better job,” said City Councilwoman Mary Sheffield at a town hall for the Detroit Chapter - National Association of Black Journalists. “There are so many areas ... that are missing out on opportunities and resources.” 

Disparities and perceptions anchored “Diversity in the D,” a discussion that the NABJ's Detroit chapter presented at City Theatre in the Hockeytown Café.

Diversity and its role in shaping society needs to be explored, NABJ President Sarah Glover said at the forum.

“(Diversity) really is the catalyst for change,” she told an audience of nearly 400 people.

Panelists including city officials and business leaders discussed expanding minorities' roles in Detroit’s civic, professional and business life.

Eric Means, a real estate developer who has been involved in major projects in Midtown and elsewhere in the city, recalled how working with other African-Americans helped accelerate his career. 

"This was two African-Americans who had a great vision I had an opportunity to be a part of," he said.

But some speakers worried about barriers preventing some residents from gaining the new jobs associated with development. 

“We have to have some real robust programs ... to get our residents prepared to make sure contractors connect,” Sheffield said.

Nolan Finley, a Detroit News columnist and editorial page editor, agreed.

“I think we’ve got to tear down a lot of barriers to employment," he said. "… We’re shutting out too many people from employment, and not only employment, but employment training.”

A second panel addressed the effects locally and nationwide following the Kerner Commission report in 1968. President Lyndon Johnson appointed the 11-member group following unrest in Detroit and New Jersey, and tasked it with determining the causes as well as ways to prevent more disturbances. 

The commission recommended that the federal government spend billions to attack structural racism in housing, education and employment.

The study also touched on the role of the media in depicting minority communities in the 1960s, and suggested that lack of minorities covering those areas limited coverage that could have highlighted the underlying issues that sparked the episodes of civil unrest.

A half-century after that landmark report, newsrooms have diversified, but that has not always translated to upper management, where more decisions about coverage are made, said Marla Drutz, general manager at WDIV (Ch. 4).

“Things have gotten better, but they’re nowhere near where they need to be,” she said.

The discussions interested Jessica Gassiyombo, a Detroiter who works in the auto industry.

“It’s insightful,” she said. “Inclusion is really important.”

The session was among the activities connected to the 2018 NABJ Annual Convention & Career Fair, which officially kicks off Wednesday and is taking place in the Motor City for the first time since 1992.

Through Sunday, nearly 3,000 journalists, media executives, public relations professionals and students from across the country are expected to attend, joining in events ranging from a fireside chat with business Dan Gilbert to city tours and a plenary on technological innovation.

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