Forum examines race, rebellion in Detroit since 1967

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Dearborn — A forum on “Community, Culture & Race — Art and Rebellion: Detroit since ‘67” drew hundreds to the Arab American National Museum on Thursday.

Panelists and performers with backgrounds including community organizing, history, social justice and the arts represented the forum, which was designed to examine the effects of the 1967 Detroit uprising on its culture, race and community.

“We’re never going to get to a point where we can have an integrated city of Detroit that does not replicate 1967 and this time, if the city burns, it won’t recover,” said panelist Tawana Petty.

Petty said change could include an end to the use of the word riot to refer to the 1967 events in Detroit.

“Stop calling it a riot,” she said. “It was a rebellion. Nobody talks about the race rebellion of ’43 and everyone talks about ’67.”

Petty, born and raised in Detroit, is known by her stage name “Honeycomb.” She is a poet, author, youth advocate and social justice organizer.

Other panelists were:

■Gloria House, professor emerita of humanities and African-American studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and associate professor emerita in the Interdisciplinary Studies Department of Wayne State University.

■Ahmed Abuznaid, a Palestinian-American who was born in Jerusalem, was motivated by the murder of Trayvon Martin to co-found Dream Defenders and serves as director for Take on Hate, which aims to dispel harmful stereotypes of Arab- and Muslim-Americans.

■Martina Guzman, an award-winning reporter and journalist and graduate of the Journalism School at Columbia University.

■Host Thomas J. Sugrue, a professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University.

Nearly 400 community members attended the forum, which included topics such as capitalism, leadership, class and race issues in the city of Detroit. The forum comes near the 50th anniversary of the 1967 uprising on July 23.

House said police brutality and Detroit’s school system failures were lingering effects of the uprising.

“In a city where over 100 public schools have been closed, we are the ones overcrowded, teachers are not teaching ... ,” House said. “Children go month after month, year after year, without textbooks, equipment, technology and where our state government seems absolutely careless. “It’s not because our students can’t perform. We don’t have the resources to do it and teachers don’t have the support.”

Guzman pointed to what she called a lack of diversity in newsrooms in the city in 1967 and still today.

“The news was seen and told in the eyes of white men, who saw the rebellion as an affront to them instead of an affront to the circumstances the people of color lived in,” Guzman said. “In terms of unfinished business, that’s something that really needs to be examined and looked at. ... How those stories are told from the eyes of the people who live in those communities matter.”

The panelists called for more forums on the subject of race and said progress shouldn’t stop with an anniversary.

“We are at a moment of crisis but also a moment of opportunity,” Petty said.