Bankole: Blacks need leaders in Detroit's recovery

Bankole Thompson

Detroit's recovery under Mayor Mike Duggan has countless cheerleaders. What is lacking are voices challenging the administration about the blind spots in this massive comeback effort that largely relies on the incorrect assumption that a rising tide will lift all boats. 

Who is speaking out for the thousands of blacks left out of the Duggan recovery?

I put that question to Lawrence T. Foster, the senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, which once counted as its members former Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young, former City Council President Erma Henderson, Congressman Charles Diggs and boxing great Joe Louis.

Pastor Lawrence Foster

“Do you hear anyone talking? I’m listening for a voice crying in the wilderness,” Foster told me before quickly adding, “The bottom line is the people that we have traditionally looked up to, for whatever reason, are not speaking. They are not speaking to the masses of people. We have to look somewhere else.”

Foster’s misgivings about Detroit's trajectory are not misplaced.

"I think that many people who are in centers and seeds of power mean well, but they have not developed sufficient empathy to really understand and appreciate what must be done to offer a hand to people who are caught in the quagmire of poverty and other situations that are not productive,” Foster said. “Even the mayor, I think he makes some efforts to have listening sessions and council does too but there is still a great gap. We definitely have not wrapped our arms around the crime situation. We’ve poured all of this money into downtown, Midtown and other choice locations, but we are still operating from this trickle-down mentality instead of making concerted efforts to create the kind of balance and synergy that will give people hope.”

Foster was mentored by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s father when he was a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, before he left for Cambridge to further his studies at Harvard Divinity School. He said there is a sense of urgency in Detroit:

“What is happening in my opinion is that there is a group of people who are going to benefit from this continued recovery. They and their families are going to advance, and everybody else will continue to be pushed to the margins,” Foster said. “Whether it is dealing with homelessness, the brain-drain with our young people who don’t think twice about coming back to Detroit and other issues — until we are willing to have those kinds of discussions no matter how uncomfortable they are, the recovery is going to perpetuate the haves and the have-nots.” 

Solomon Kinloch, the senior pastor of Triumph Church, which is regarded as one of the fastest growing churches in the city, said it’s time for people to speak up about the recovery.

“All have responsibility to chime in about the need for a more robust inclusionary effort in the city’s recovery. Citizens should not have to beg to be included in the process. There is no long-term survival unless the community determines what is in its best interest and how it wants to proceed,” Kinloch said. “We don't need to be dictated to about our needs; we need to dictate what we want and how we want to achieve our goals.”

Kinloch began his tutelage in the ministry at New Bethel Baptist Church, where the late Rev. C.L. Franklin, the father of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, and confidant of King, once pastored. He said the priorities of the recovery must be clear:

“The essential link to achieving a robust recovery is to move the least of these in a forward trajectory. Concerted efforts need to be directed at uplifting those who have skill deficits,” Kinloch said. “This occurs when resources are dedicated towards providing assistance to those who have been living on the margins of life, whose sustenance is driven by a need to meet basic necessities of life. Clean and affordable water, affordable rent, access to capital, access to a quality education delivery system, entrepreneurial and job opportunities are all necessary to achieve a robust and inclusive recovery.”

Neither Foster nor Kinloch have signed on to Duggan’s proposal to convert churches into recreational centers.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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