Detroit's elite gather for Soul Food Luncheon

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

The cold couldn't keep them away.

Detroit's movers and shakers turned up in droves at Detroit's federal courthouse Thursday for the 28th annual Soul Food Luncheon in U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Damon J. Keith's chambers.

Once inside — it took forever for the throng to clear the security station on the first floor — they happily grazed on chicken, ham, black-eyed peas and sweet potato pie, to cite just a few of the offerings.

Keith, at 92 the star of the show, sat in a leather chair at one end of his chambers on the second floor to receive visitors, who formed a line that snaked out the door and down the hallway.

Detroit's most-distinguished jurist surveyed the crowd and smiled. "There are some 400 good citizens who've come to this luncheon," Keith said. "I don't know if it's because of Black History Month or the black-eyed peas, but I'm glad they're here."

Gov. Rick Snyder, Keith said, was unable to attend this year because he just got out of the hospital and his doctors don't want him traveling. "But he sent a lovely letter."

Mayor Mike Duggan arrived early at 11 a.m. and was gone before the crowds descended.

As always, the highlight of the lunchtime event was the presentation of the Soul and Spirit Humanitarian Award, which always goes to a person of color who's made a significant contribution to the community.

This year's recipient was Walter E. Douglas, chairman of Southfield's Avis Ford and for many years president of New Detroit Inc.

Pausing in the midst of his lunch, Douglas noted he got to know Keith decades ago when they each had a daughter at Louis Pasteur Elementary School on the west side.

Douglas called the Humanitarian Award "a high honor, coming as it does from the judge I've known for 50 years."

Sitting right nearby, Dr. Roberta Wright — the widow of Charles H. Wright, founder of the city's African-American museum — said she and her husband went to Thanksgiving for years at the Keiths' house.

"I've known Damon since he was a student at Northwestern High School," she said. "I love him and trust in him."

As for award recipient Douglas, Wright pointed out that he's served for years on the Wright Museum board of directors. "He also sold us our cars," she added, "though he didn't give us a break on price."