UM conference focuses on fighting 'barriers' in Detroit
Detroit — Mayor Mike Duggan on Thursday touted a city that's becoming a destination for employers but remains filled with barriers that are preventing Detroiters from gaining access to jobs.
Duggan, before a crowd of educators, students and community organizations, reiterated his second-term theme of opportunity and a push to get more ex-offenders and low-income residents access to employment.
"My job is to get them working because there's ultimately one way to crack into generational poverty, and that's to get folks to get the skills and the access to good paying jobs," Duggan said during a University of Michigan conference at the Gem Theatre.
In its third year, the um3detroit program brings several hundred educators and students from the university's campuses together with city-based groups and organizations.
Duggan held up Sakthi Automotive Group on the city's east side as a model company that he said has worked to recruit ex-offenders, and he urged others to consider the same.
"We now, company after company, we are going to say, 'Look, I believe deeply in ban the box,'" he said. "I'm not saying you never do a background check before you hire somebody, but get to know them and do that first interview before you make a decision based on your own biases I'm not going to look at this person at all."
Duggan also highlighted negotiations with firms like Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to give residents preference for the 5,000 new jobs a future plant is expected to bring and the city's plan to expand the reach of its training program, Detroit at Work, to aid more of the city's unemployed in finding work.
The mayor was among several speakers who took part in the day-long program that also included University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel and a community leader from the Kresge Foundation.
Schlissel credited leaders and organizations that have played a part in the city's trajectory. But noted mobility, education and justice are areas in Detroit that remain challenged.
Renovation plans are in the works for the university's Rackham building near the Detroit Institute of Arts in Midtown. The investment will include classrooms, meeting places for academic programs and community engagement, he said
"We envision the space as a home base for many of our activities in Detroit," he said.
Wendy Lewis Jackson, the Detroit program managing director for the Kresge Foundation, further stressed the need for Detroit's rebirth to reach its neighborhoods.
The poverty rate, joblessness and barriers to education remain "a crushing burden" that she said "is felt by far too many residents."
"Over the next decade, Detroit is trying going to have to wrestle with this paradox of rising city, caught between the tension of attracting new development and doing so against the backdrop of neighborhoods that still struggle with decades of disinvestment," she said.