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Opinion: Ilitch should help close Detroit's digital divide

Anthony Adams

It has been widely documented that no business person has made more promises to the people of Detroit and delivered less than Chris Ilitch, the heir to the multi-billion dollar enterprise, Ilitch Holdings. In fact, Ilitch received $324 million of taxpayer funds to build Little Caesars Arena — money that, in part, would have gone to the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD). This was all based on the premise that the arena’s surrounding area (the “District”) would stimulate economic growth. Detroit is still waiting six years later. 

Now I’ll be the first to say to my fellow Detroiters, we cannot wait for superman to come save us. Otherwise, we’ll be waiting a mighty long time, and we don’t need a handout.

But in this moment, it only seems right that Ilitch Holdings partner with DPSCD and provide laptops and internet hotspots to all DPSCD children who desperately need it. 

Christopher Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, Inc, speaks about the District and Detroit.

By April 28, DPSCD must have a distance learning plan approved and implemented as mandated by Gov. Gretchen  Whitmer's executive order closing in-person instruction. All school districts in our state are scrambling to put together such a plan.

But now, the divide between the children of Detroit and their suburban counterparts will only grow wider.  It is astonishing that 40% of Detroiters do not have access to broadband internet. This fact shows that DPSCD will have one hand tied behind its back as it moves to implement its distance learning plan.

This week, my pastor, the Rev. Solomon Kinloch, announced that Triumph Church will be donating laptop computers to DPSCD. With limited resources, our church was able to make this commitment. Now, it’s Ilitch’s turn to step up. 

It would also be refreshing to see Mayor Mike Duggan use his relationships and access to “strongly encourage” Ilitch to step up and help close the digital divide for the children of Detroit.  

$324 million of taxpayer funds were used to build Little Caesars Arena based on the premise that the arena’s surrounding area would stimulate economic growth.

This crisis has shined a bright light on the fact that we live in two Detroits. I know this concept is often dismissed as radical ideology, but think about it: Mr. Ilitch lives in one Detroit, where he was the beneficiary of $324 million of taxpayer money to build a sports arena based on broken promises. The children that attend DPSCD live in a different Detroit, where at no fault of their own, they will be forced to educate themselves at home over the next few months without any broadband connectivity.  

Ilitch should meet this moment and do his part to help close the digital divide.  

Anthony Adams is an attorney, and former President of Detroit Public Schools Board of Education.