Push on for Grosse Pointe NAACP branch

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A diverse crowd of about 100 people from across the Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods gathered Wednesday night to help launch what organizers said is the first NAACP branch in the suburbs’ history.

They met at Rockefellers Oyster Bar & Grill in Grosse Pointe Park to return membership applications and money for the branch formation. Organizer Greg Bowens said the turnout — of both black and white people — showcases the diversity of the Pointes.

“We can work together and bring the attention that we want to the things we feel are really important,” said Bowens, a communications executive and onetime spokesman for former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer.

Attendees who turn in paperwork become members of the NAACP, but the new branch isn’t expected to become certified until the group’s national board meeting next month.

Lindsey Gardner, a Grosse Pointe Park resident who is white, attended the meeting. She said she hoped the new branch would show others the area is a “welcoming and inclusive community for all residents.”

“I think it will only blossom from here,” she said. “We have an opportunity to improve our reputation all across southeast Michigan.”

Coordinators were spurred by the area’s shifting demographics in recent years. Grosse Pointe Park, for instance, has grown from 3.5 percent black in 2000 to nearly 11 percent in 2013, according to the U.S. Census, while Harper Woods has gone from 10.8 percent to 46.3 percent black over that same period.

As the minority populace has grown, so have some controversies.

In 2013, Grosse Pointe Park public safety officers were suspended for taking videos of a mentally impaired African-American man.

Last year, residents in Detroit and Grosse Pointe Park objected to temporary sheds for a farmers market on the border of the two cities, blocking vehicular traffic on Kercheval.

Critics claimed that created a barrier separating the predominantly white suburb from Detroit, which is predominantly black.

The sheds eventually were relocated after the two cities advanced on an agreement to develop the area. Plans had called for Grosse Pointe Park to have a permanent farmers market and plaza nearby while Detroit tears down some vacant structures along Alter, between Jefferson and Mack.

The push for creating a new local arm of the historic civil rights group, potential members say, is to help shed the area’s reputation of being less than inclusive to minorities while promoting a unified front for social justice, inclusion and diversity.

“It’s quite appropriate that we are representing the way we are today,” Bowens told the crowd Wednesday.

The Detroit Branch NAACP has been touted as the largest in the nation, but Bowens noted there are still strong branches in nearby communities such as Hamtramck.

Launching a branch in the Grosse Pointes area can help residents localize efforts and boost involvement, said Valerie Kindle, a Harper Woods city council member.

“Being the only African-American elected in Harper Woods and the Grosse Pointes, it’s a little lonely. But this gives me hope,” she told the group to applause. “You can only make positive change when we have inclusion. If we’re not a part of the game, we can’t make positive change for everybody. And I think this is the beginning of a positive change. And I am so appreciative of you guys for stepping up and creating this.”

Anthony Zander, a black Detroiter who lives near the Grosse Pointe border, was eager to join.

“It’s a good opportunity to find like-minded individuals that can be a more progressive voice in the area,” he said after filling out an application. “There’s a perception of what the Grosse Pointes are, how they view certain issues. ... I think this is going to dispel a lot of those myths.”