Bankole: Coleman Young II is not his father

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

Historical giants like Malcom X, Muhammad Ali, Maya Angelou, Mary McLeod Bethune and the Revs. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesse Jackson Sr. all have children who try to emulate in some fashion the seminal work they did in moving America toward a more perfect union.

But truth be told, these children, often described as children of the movement, are not their parents. They are not their parents in terms of the substance of the work their mothers and fathers did or the quality of leadership they demonstrated during an era when they forced our nation to submit to the true meaning of its founding creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal …”

That is one of the reasons why the mayoral campaign of state Sen. Coleman Young II is not the second coming of his father, the late Coleman A. Young, who became the first black mayor of Detroit at a time of heightened racial tensions in the city and across the nation.

The former mayor became a symbol of pride to a generation of black elected officials across the nation who saw in him the possibilities for their own futures in political office. His election reverberated around the country as a forceful response to the racial climate of that era.

But Coleman A. Young was not only a politician, he was a deal maker, who understood all too well “the art of the deal” before the term became fashionable.

He was a tough negotiator who negotiated a place for blacks in every facet of city life by ensuring that black-owned businesses including law firms took part in the economic dispensation.

Though loathed by his critics, he was also a statesman and became a moral force in an era that catapulted him into Detroit’s highest office.

Mayor Young knew his place in history and made an impact.

It will be an affront to history for any supporter of Young II to even remotely suggest that he is like his father in terms of leadership. There is nothing wrong with Young II wanting to succeed his father as mayor.

He has every right to do so, and unlike other candidates he bears a powerful name that would strike a chord with some people, especially senior citizens and the young people who feel disenfranchised in the city.

But just as each person has a unique Social Security number, each person should stand on his own worth and accomplishment and not depend on the family name to push him or her through an election.

Young II needs to show voters a plan and vision for turning Detroit around, more so than evoking images of historical struggles. In recent radio interviews, he has been expressing a lot of sentiments about the divide between downtown and the neighborhoods which resonate with a lot of people.

He talks about people left out in this dispensation. The people that are left out don’t need a sentiment. They need an action plan that would lift them out of their predicaments.

There is a divide in this city just like there is a divide in the country. But we need to concern ourselves with how we give everyone the opportunity to pursue the right to life, liberty and happiness.

Proclaiming that one is standing on the shoulders of giants and quoting historical figures is not enough to run a campaign or transform lives in neighborhoods.

If Young II is serious about becoming mayor he should roll out an agenda, not just repeated sentiments that sound great on the airwaves. His plan will have to be vetted and subjected to the same level of scrutiny that Mayor Mike Duggan faces now.

Can Young II point to things he has accomplished for the people he wants to represent?

While Duggan has to defend his record, the burden also is on Young II and every other candidate who wants to unseat him.

Sentiment whips people into frenzy. A comprehensive plan, a good one for that matter, will advance the lives of people.

The coming election should be about every candidate proving his or her mettle, showing that they not only understand the enormous issues facing the city, but that they also possess the capability to address matters like public safety that keep some residents awake at night.

Twitter: @bankieT

The writer hosts “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Super Station 910AM. This column appears Mondays and Thursdays.