Bankole: The unsung hero of Detroit’s ‘comeback’

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

When the history of Detroit’s present renaissance is written someday, there will be many chapters that will cite examples of how it all happened.

Educating thousands of people from Detroit and other underserved communities, WCCCD is one of the best investments ever made in the long running history of metro Detroit, Bankole writes.

There will be many dimensions to the history of how the city held it together within an overarching theme of Detroit’s resilience.

But one institution that has contributed immensely to that history is Wayne County Community College District, which for 50 years, has remained an educational sanctuary in the city and across the county for many who could not afford four-year degree programs.

Born out of the ashes of the 1967 Detroit race riots, the Legislature then moved with all deliberate speed to pass the law that established the college.

That historic decision was in large part to provide answers to some of the troubling questions regarding lack of access to opportunities and jobs that helped fuel the social unrest. The college became a vehicle for self-empowerment.

Educating thousands of people from Detroit and other underserved communities, WCCCD is one of the best investments ever made in the long-running history of metro Detroit.

That investment has paid off time and time again. As Benjamin Franklin said, “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

May 1, it will all come full circle when the college celebrates five decades of being a towering educational force in the city and the region during its Annual Chancellor’s Scholarship Banquet at the Marriott Hotel-Renaissance Center.

Retired U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles and Maureen Taylor, head of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, will be honored at the dinner that will kick-off with invocation by Rabbi Daniel Syme of Temple Beth El, and keynoted by Maya Wiley, a nationally renowned civil rights lawyer.

All three honorees in many ways mirror the kind of impact the college has had because they have been at the forefront of pushing issues around equity and inclusion.

“We are champions of opportunity, defenders of big dreams and guardians of roads to prosperity,” WCCCD Chancellor Dr. Curtis L. Ivery told me ahead of Tuesday’s celebration. “During our 50th anniversary we pledge our commitment to everyone to keep our doors open and available to all who are looking to transform themselves across the 36 cities and townships that we serve.”

He added, “This college has been a lifeline for many people who otherwise would not have made it. When you give people the opportunity to better themselves they can become meaningful and productive members of society. That has been part of our mission.”

Ivery’s leadership has been credited for the college’s success including a range of capital improvements that led to state-of -the-arts campuses and other building projects.

A veteran of the administration of then Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, Ivery, arrived at WCCCD in 1995 and started transforming what was once an institution on the brink of collapse to an entity that is now a treasured jewel.

With fiscal integrity and a commitment to expand the college beyond its traditional confines, WCCCD, is now a six-campus institution that caters to 72,000 credit and non-credit students annually.

“We have a range of very diverse workforce programs to help retrain southeast Michigan residents for new careers in emerging sector industries,” Ivery said.

At the end of the day if youth and adult unemployment remain high in the city, and no creative all-stakeholder efforts made to reduce it, the whole idea of a comeback will remain lopsided.

Let’s not fool ourselves. Detroit’s recovery will be transient if most Detroiters feel that their lives are not positively impacted by all the activities going on in and around downtown.

That is why utmost priority should be given to equipping people with opportunities across this city to get well-paying jobs that will enable them to put food on the table for their families. That is where community colleges like WCCCD stand out as an educational imperative for the less privileged.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Superstation 910AM.