Finley: Dave Bing asks, where are the black people?

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News
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Dave Bing stood before Detroit’s business and civic leaders last week and asked the same question I did a year ago: Where are the black people?

The former mayor wasn’t talking about the absence of African-Americans in the hot new downtown nightspots, its trendy lofts and behind desks in its office buildings.

He was raising an alarm about the larger and more troubling diminishment of blacks in leadership roles in Detroit’s civic, business, media and political communities.

Former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing speaking at the Detroit Policy Conference at the Motor City Casino on Feb. 24

“There is little real inclusion or real opportunities for Detroit businesses or residents,” Bing declared in remarks to the regional chamber’s Detroit Policy Conference.

After recapping the historic rise of black power and influence in Detroit, Bing noted that today African-Americans are playing a secondary role.

“From a corporate standpoint, the majority of companies today don’t have persons of color on the board, as officers, or managers with decision making authority” he said. “Black contractors and developers find themselves on the outside looking in. When given an opportunity, it’s miniscule.”

Bing, whose former steel company was once one of the nation’s largest black-owned businesses, also decried the lessened role of civic organizations such as New Detroit and the Urban League in shaping the vision for Detroit’s future.

“Today we have a void in African-American leadership,” he said.

This could be written off as sour grapes by an ex-mayor who has been largely ignored since leaving office. But Bing still commands considerable respect from city residents, and what he’s saying is echoed on urban radio and in conversations in the black community.

Inclusion is embraced as a goal by the business community and City Hall, and yet still many of the city’s black residents feel the wonderful wave of Detroit’s revival is washing them out.

And while neighborhoods have been a focus of Mayor Mike Duggan — and of last week’s policy conference — progress has been slow in improving the quality of life for too many in the city. There’s still a sense of Two Detroits, one for the white and successful, and one for the poor and black.

“Many African-American Detroiters do not feel that they are a part of the redevelopment or resurgence of the city,” Bing said. “As much as we say or think we are inclusive, the reality is, we are not.”

I first raised my concern about the growing resentment bred by Two Detroits after the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and worried the same sense of disenfranchisement could produce similar hostilities here. Bing shares that fear.

“Detroit is not far from a Ferguson, a Baltimore or a Chicago, maybe one incident away,” he said. “We ought not feel comfortable about revitalization without inclusion.”

This is not just fair warning, it’s simple fairness. A city that is more than 80 percent African-American must have more black voices in leadership roles in business, politics, civic organizations and the media. As Bing concluded — find them, groom them and make them count, instead of just counting their heads.

Nolan Finley’s new book, “Little Red Hen: A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice,” is available from Amazon, iBooks and Barnes & Noble Nook.


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